First New US Nuclear Reactor in Decades Begins Operation

The new nuclear power stations are completely emission-free.

Source : Georgia Power

August 5, 2023

Author : Alex Bustillos

With Christopher Nolan's film “Oppenheimer” running in theaters, American nuclear innovation is on full display worldwide.

While its destructive capacities for war are frightening, when appropriately utilized for civilian purposes vast quantities of energy are produced through nuclear power plants.  Yet, over modern history, due to the lobbying of environmental groups and negative media coverage following Chernobyl and Fukushima, the industry has faced setbacks.

The new nuclear plant in Georgia is the first-ever American nuclear reactor constructed from scratch in three decades, supplying electricity reliably to the grid. The cost though of the Georgia power plant may discourage other utilities from adopting nuclear power as an alternative to a carbon-free future.  

Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle, located southeast of Augusta, is now in commercial operations and sending electricity to the grid. This project is nearly 7 years late and costs $17 billion over budget, as announced by the Georgia Power Company.

Operating at maximum capacity, Unit 3 generates 1100 megawatts and can provide electricity to 500,000 homes and businesses. Several utilities in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama now benefit from the electricity, and the 2.7 million customers of Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Co.

The CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co., Revealed that a significant feat had been accomplished in a country after over 30 years.

A fourth reactor is now in its final completion stage at the site, where two reactors have been successfully generating electricity for decades. In a recent announcement, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) revealed that preparations are underway to load radioactive fuel into Unit 4. It is anticipated to be completed by the end of September, marking a crucial step in the ongoing nuclear energy project. 

According to the latest reports, unit 4 is set to commence commercial operation by March. 

The projected cost for the third and fourth reactors has skyrocketed from an initial estimate of $14 billion to a staggering $31 billion. The reactors' owners now face an unprecedented financial burden as they grapple with exorbitant expenses. In addition to the $3.7 billion paid by the original contractor Westinghouse to the project owners to terminate the involvement, it is worth noting that this amount doesn't include the aforementioned figure. With this latest expenditure, the total spending has now reached nearly $35 billion.

Construction on the third reactor, which commenced in 2009, was initially anticipated to culminate in power generation by 2016.

In the ongoing battle against climate change, government officials and several utilities are again focusing on nuclear power as a potential solution by recognizing its ability to generate electricity without relying on natural gas, coal, and oil. 

Meanwhile, a new film by Director Oliver Stone shows how the nuclear industry is being revitalized and how many of the concerns once associated with it have been addressed or were over-blown. In China, France, Russia, and the United States major new development in nuclear energy are underway.

The current focus of the US primarily revolves around smaller nuclear reactors, as advocates believe they can be constructed without the financial and temporal setbacks that have afflicted the Vogtle project. Womack clarified that the company has no intentions of expanding its fleet with additional reactors. As per Georgia Power, these completely emission-free nuclear power stations will operate for decades, while the new units will survive for 80 years.

Every electric consumer in Georgia will pay for Vogtle. Georgia Power currently owns 45.7% of the reactors. In contrast, small shares are owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., which offers electricity to member-owned cooperatives, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and the City of Dalton. Several other Florida and Alabama utilities have contracted to purchase Vogtle's power. 

Georgia Power's customers are shouldering a portion of the financing cost, as confirmed by elected public service commissioners who have been given the green light for a monthly rate increase of $3.78. This increase is said to take effect for residential customers once the third unit commences power generation. In a potential blow to consumers, it has been revealed that bills in August could be impacted following a recent $16-a-month surge in residential customers' expenses to offset the rising fuel costs. 

The decisions regarding the allocation of the remaining costs of Vogtle, including the fourth reactor, will be determined by the commissioners at a later date.

Category : Green Economy Investment in Infrastructure Market Watch Public-Private Partnership

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