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Plant Vogtle reactor nears the finish line

Alan Neuhauser
Aug 2, 2022
Getty image of two nuclear reactor towers
Credit: Pallava Bagla / Contributor

One of the nation's last large-scale nuclear reactors will finally be able to begin loading fuel as soon as October, likely marking the beginning of the end for a construction project beset by enormous cost overruns and extensive delays.

Why it matters: Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle in Georgia will almost certainly be the final fission-based, large-scale reactors built in the U.S., but their successful completion could reinvigorate efforts by U.S. companies to sell reactors abroad.

What's happening: Georgia Power's parent company, Southern Company, announced that it's submitted the last two filings needed to begin loading fuel and starting up the Unit 3 reactor as soon as Q4.

Catch up fast: Georgia Power owns the largest stake in the new light water AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle (45.7%). The other owners are Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

  • The reactors were set to go online in November 2021. However, they've faced extensive construction delays, and the estimated cost has more than doubled to over $30 billion.
  • Unit 4 is expected to enter service in Q3 or Q4 next year.

Meanwhile: The Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office is providing up to $12 billion in loan guarantees for the project.

  • "The AP1000 was designed as the next-generation nuclear reactor that could provide a standardized design for the U.S. utilities market," the DOE said in a press release.

The intrigue: Southern Company agreed to take on the project in 2017, after the initial owner, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy.

  • But Georgia Power has faced intense scrutiny for the project, which critics such as the League of Conservation Voters and the IEEFA say has unfairly burdened ratepayers with higher electricity bills.
  • The utility has maintained that the new reactors "will be clean energy sources and produce zero air pollution," Georgia Power spokesperson Jeff Wilson told Inside Climate News earlier this year. “That’s why we remain fully committed to getting the job done, and getting it done right, with safety and quality our top priority.”

What we're watching: This could get U.S. reactor designs back on the world stage.

  • "It’s been a real challenge that we haven’t had one to show the world. The Korean designs have gotten ahead of us — and obviously the Russian and Chinese designs," says Rich Powell, CEO of ClearPath, which has generally backed nuclear investment.
  • "Now, Westinghouse and the whole group of U.S. contractors can much more confidently go out in the world and say, 'Here’s this thing. We can bring you to Georgia, we no longer need to bring you to China to see them in person.' And that will really improve the commercial prospects."
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