Nuclear Milestone: America’s Latest Reactor Commences Operations


Monday marked the first time in nearly seven years that a new nuclear reactor began supplying power to the electric grid in the United States. Nuclear energy does not produce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Georgia Power, the plant’s primary proprietor, announced on Monday that the unit 3 reactor at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia, has begun commercial operation. This follows experiments conducted in March.

According to Georgia Power, the reactor, a Westinghouse AP1000, is producing approximately 1,110 megawatts of energy, enough to power approximately 500,000 households and businesses. According to Scott Burnell, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the last time a nuclear reactor began supplying energy to the power grid was in October 2016, when the Tennessee Valley Authority began commercial operation of its Watts Bar Unit 2 near Spring City, Tennessee. Prior to that, no new nuclear reactor had been activated since Watts Bar 1 in May 1996.

The unit 3 power reactor at Vogtle will provide electricity to customers for the next 60 to 80 years, according to a statement from Georgia Power CEO Kim Greene. The nuclear industry is commemorating the momentous occasion. Commercial operations of Vogtle Unit 3 is a major accomplishment for the United States nuclear energy industry and a milestone in advancing global clean and reliable energy solutions, said Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an advocacy group for the nuclear industry. 

Construction of one of these reactors is a vast undertaking. The construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 began in June 2009, took significantly longer than anticipated, and cost significantly more than initially estimated, according to an article published on Monday by nuclear energy experts from Columbia University.

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Project Delays and Cost Overruns

Photo by: Arvin Temkar via Associated Press

The initial cost estimates for both reactors were $14 billion, and it was anticipated that they would become operational in 2016 and 2017. Experts in nuclear energy from Columbia, Matt Bowen, Ramon T. Ponangi, and Andrew Evans, said that the costs have risen to $30 billion and that unit 4 has not yet been activated.

Regardless, the construction schedule and budget issues at Vogtle have been a burden for the nuclear industry, which is attempting to reinvent itself after decades of stagnation. According to the World Nuclear Association, the nuclear construction industry has been in a slump for the past two decades.

 In contrast, there has been a significant increase in interest in nuclear energy in recent years, as the need for renewable energy has increased in response to the sense of urgency surrounding climate change. According to the DOE, nuclear energy contributed 47% of carbon-free electricity in the United States in 2022 and approximately 20% of the nation’s total energy since the 1990s.

 Unit 4 of the Vogtle Plant is expected to commence service in the late fourth quarter of 2023 or the first quarter of 2024, according to an announcement made by Georgia Power on Monday. The Vogtle Power Plant is owned by Georgia Power, the Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia. Dalton Utilities owns 1.6% of the company.

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Source: CNBC, San Diego Union Tribune

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