The United States approves fuel loading at Vogtle-3 nuclear reactor

5 Aug 2022

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has authorised Southern Company to load nuclear fuel and begin operation at Vogtle-3 nuclear reactor near Augusta in Georgia (United States). The Vogtle nuclear expansion project consists of two AP1000 reactors of 1,117 MW each (1,250 MW gross) on the site of the Vogtle nuclear power plant (currently composed of two 1,229 MW gross reactors commissioned in 1987 and 1989). Construction started in 2013. The third unit is now scheduled to begin operation in March 2023 and the fourth in December 2023. In May 2022, the project's cost was reevaluated to US$30.34bn, compared to an estimate of US$14bn when approved in 2012. That amount does not consider the US$3.68bn that original contractor Westinghouse paid to the owners after going bankrupt, which would raise total spending to more than US$34bn.

The new untis are owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), an affiliate of Southern Company, and cooperatives and municipal utilities, including Oglethorpe Power (OGP, 30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG, 22.7%) and the city of Dalton (1.6%). The municipal utility in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as some other municipal utilities and cooperatives in Florida and Alabama committed to acquire power from the expansion project. In 2018, Oglethorpe Power and MEAG entered into an agreement with Georgia Power in 2018 specifying that if costs reach a certain point, the other owners can choose to freeze their costs at that level. The two companies have now exercised that provision and started talks with Georgia, which refuses to shoulder more of the burden.

Vogtle-3 and Vogtle-4 will be the first new nuclear reactors built in the United States in the last three decades. Nuclear accounted for 19% of the country's total generation in 2021. There are 92 nuclear reactors currently in operation for a total capacity of about 99 GW (2022). In May 2022, Entergy permanently shut down the 800 MW Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan. In 2020, NextEra Energy shut down its Duane Arnold 600 MW reactor. Entergy also decommissioned its second and third Indian Point reactors in 2020 and 2021, respectively, for a total of 2.3 GW.

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