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In Tennessee, Time Comes for a Nuclear Plant Four Decades in the Making via The New York Times

SPRING CITY, Tenn. — When the Tennessee Valley Authority first ordered Watts Bar 2, the nuclear reactor now approaching completion here, demand for electricity was growing at 7 percent a year and coal supplies were uncertain. The mercury, soot and acid rain that coal produced were simply accepted as the way things were, and many of the people who now worry about global warming had not yet been born.

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The agency started Watts Bar as part of a campaign to build 17 reactors, but dropped the project in 1988 after spending about $1.7 billion, when it was supposedly 80 percent complete. In 2007, with electricity demand growing again, the T.V.A. board voted to restart work because, consultants said, it could be finished for $2 billion. But by the end of next year, when commercial operation is now expected, the T.V.A. will have spent more than $4 billion.

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When work resumed in 2007, engineers decided that the mechanical switches in the control room, although they had never been used, were too old. But nobody manufactured mechanical switches of that type anymore, so the T.V.A. sent them back to the manufacturer for reconditioning.

The 500-foot-tall cooling tower, narrow at the middle to create a draft, is intended to handle 410,000 gallons of water a minute. It is still sturdy, but dark and weathered and streaked with yellow-green moss.

Other parts are more modern. The turbines, which convert steam from the reactor to mechanical energy that is turned into electricity, were replaced before they were ever used because newer designs are more efficient and durable.

Not everyone is convinced that finishing the job is a good idea.

The underlying difficulty, according to S. David Freeman, whom President Jimmy Carter appointed to chair the T.V.A. in 1977, and who tried to shut many of the nuclear projects, is that the agency’s executives are “nuke-aholics.”

“They’re addicted to nuclear power,” said Mr. Freeman, the author of a book that argues that renewable energy can meet nearly all electricity needs. He said that when he joined the T.V.A. board, “they were telling me Watts Bar was 90 percent finished, but a few years later it was 84 percent finished.”

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