The first domestic-made nuclear reactor in seven years goes live in the USA

Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle, Georgia, has finally begun supplying clean and reliable energy to the power grid. This marks the first new reactor to go live in the US since 2016.
Christopher McFadden
Image of Plant Vogtle.

Georgia Power 

The long-awaited Unit 3 nuclear fission reactor at Plant Vogtle in Augusta, Georgia, has officially started supplying electricity to the power grid.

The first new domestically-produced reactor to go live in nearly seven years marks a historic event for the USA. The reactor is a Westinghouse AP1000, which can generate roughly 1,110 megawatts of energy. This, CNBC reports, is enough energy to power around half a million homes and businesses.

500,000 homes supplied

Supplied late and over budget (an all too familiar event with nuclear reactors), Unit 3 will continue to pump out carbon-free energy for at least 60 to 70 years. CNBC reported that the Georgia Power Co. announced on Monday (July 31) was seven years late and $17 billion over budget. Nuclear power accounts for approximately 25 percent of Georgia Power's energy generation. Georgia Power is the largest division of Southern Co., which is headquartered in Atlanta.

According to a report published by nuclear energy experts at Columbia University, the construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 started in June 2009 and faced delays in completion and higher costs than originally estimated. According to nuclear energy experts Matt Bowen, Rama T. Ponangi, and Andrew Evans from Columbia, the initial cost estimates for both reactors were $14 billion, and they were supposed to become operational in 2016 and 2017. However, the costs have significantly increased, reaching $30 billion, and unit 4 is still, as yet, to go live.

“This hadn’t been done in this country from start to finish in some 30-plus years,” Chris Womack, CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co. told CNBC in an interview. “So to do this, to get this done, to get this done right, is a wonderful accomplishment for our company, for the state, and for the customers here in Georgia," he added.

According to Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) spokesperson Scott Burnell, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Unit 2 began commercial operation near Spring City, Tennessee, in October 2016. Before this, the last new nuclear reactor to be activated was Watts Bar 1 in May 1996.

Unsurprisingly, nuclear power advocates are thrilled at the latest news about Unit 3. “The commercial operation of Vogtle Unit 3 marks a significant achievement for the U.S. nuclear energy industry and a milestone in advancing global clean and reliable energy solutions,” Maria Korsnick, the CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry advocacy group, said in a statement. “We are thrilled to witness the successful deployment of this Westinghouse AP1000 advanced reactor, which is helping to shape the energy landscape of the future," he added.

More to come

And the good news keeps coming. The fourth new reactor at the site will also come online very soon. In addition to the existing older reactors, Unit 3 and the upcoming Unit 4 will generate electricity for decades. According to the Associated Press, the NRC has already given permission to begin fuelling Unit 4, which is expected to occur sometime in September this year. Once this is complete, Unit 4 is anticipated to go live in March of 2024.

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