A nuclear power plant in Georgia has begun splitting atoms in one of its two new reactors, Georgia Power said Monday, a key step toward commercial operation of the first new nuclear reactors built from scratch for decades in the United States.
The Atlanta-based Southern Co. unit said operators achieved self-contained nuclear fission inside the reactor at vegan, southeast of Augusta. This makes intense heat that will be used to generate steam and spin turbines to generate electricity.
A third and fourth reactors were approved for construction at Vogtle by the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2009, and the third reactor was scheduled to begin producing electricity in 2016. The company now says Unit 3 could begin commercial operation in May or June.
Unit 4 is expected to enter commercial service between November and March 2024.
The cost of the third and fourth reactors was initially expected to be $14 billion. Reactors are now expected to cost over $30 billion. That doesn’t include the $3.68 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid out to owners after going bankrupt, bringing the total outlay to more than $34 billion.
The latest set of delays at Unit 3 included a portion of pipe from a critical backup cooling system that was vibrate during startup tests. The construction workers had not installed the supports requested on the plans. The company also said it needed to fix a slowly dripping valve and diagnose a water flow problem in the reactor coolant pumps.
Georgia Power said Unit 3 will continue start-up tests to show that its cooling system and steam supply system will operate under the intense heat and pressure created by a nuclear reactor. After that, operators are supposed to connect the reactor to the power grid and gradually bring it to full power.
“We remain focused on bringing this unit safely online, fully resolving all issues, and doing things right at every level,” Chris Womack, president and CEO of Georgia Power, said in a statement. writing. “Reaching initial criticality is one of the last steps in the start-up process and required considerable diligence and attention to detail from our teams.”
Georgia Power owns a minority of the two new reactors. The remaining shares are held by Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton. Oglethorpe and MEAG would sell power to co-ops and municipal utilities in Georgia, as well as Jacksonville, Florida, and parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers are already paying part of the financing cost, and state regulators have approved a monthly rate increase of $3.78 per month once the third unit begins generating power. Georgia’s elected Public Service Commission will later decide who will pay the remaining costs.
Vogtle is the only nuclear power plant under construction in the United States. Its costs and delays could deter other utilities from building such plants, even if they produce electricity without emitting climate-altering carbon emissions.
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