First New U.S. Nuclear Reactor in 30 Years Begins Commercial Operation

Credit: Georgia Power

by | Jul 31, 2023

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Georgia Power said its new nuclear power unit, the first constructed in the United States in three decades, has started commercial operations.The Plant Vogtle Unit 3 can provide energy to more than half a million businesses and homes in its service area, Georgia Power said, and once a fourth nuclear unit comes online the system will be the largest producer of clean energy in the nation. The new reactor is expected to produce 1.1 gigawatts of energy.

Nuclear energy is a zero-emissions energy source, which is growing as a tool in clean transitions, but still faces implementation hurdles such as cost and safety concerns. Georgia Power has faced numerous delays in getting its nuclear expansion operational but declared that Unit 3 had safely reached 100% power at the end of May 2023.

Unit 4 of the project received approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on July 28, 2023, to start loading radioactive fuel into the project. The NRC said that work on Unit 4 benefited from Unit 3 going through the process and that it has been properly built and meets safety requirements.

Georgia Power said loading the fuel could start by September, followed by several months of operational testing. The company said it hopes Unit 4 is operational by the end of the year or early 2024.

Georgia Power said nuclear energy currently provides about 25% of its overall production through the existing reactors at Plant Vogtle, located in Waynesboro, Georgia, and its other nuclear facility, Plant Hatch in Baxley, Georgia. The Associated Press has reported that the project comprising the two new reactors has been up to seven years behind schedule and the cost has reached $31 billion, up from a planned $14 billion.

Despite the challenges of increasing the use of nuclear power in the United States and internationally, the goal of transitioning to the clean energy source appears to be rapidly increasing. In addition to being completely emissions-free, nuclear power sites can operate for decades, and Georgia Power said its new units will last up to 80 years.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear power plants helped the U.S. avoid nearly 477 million metric tons of carbon in 2022. Earlier this year Westinghouse unveiled plans for a small nuclear reactor, and several other projects from companies such as NuScale, NB Power, Microsoft, and Dow are in the works.

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