ATLANTA – The first of two new nuclear reactors being built at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle has reached a key step toward going into service this spring, the Atlanta-based utility announced Monday.
Vogtle’s Unit 3 has safety reached initial criticality, meaning the reactor has been started, atoms are being split, and heat is being generated.
“Reaching initial criticality is one of the final steps in the startup process and has required tremendous diligence and attention to detail from our teams,” said Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “We remain focused on safely bringing this unit online, fully addressing any issues and getting it right at every level.”
Now that the Unit 3 reactor has reached criticality, operators will continue to raise power to support synchronizing the generator to the electric grid and begin producing electricity. Then, they will continue increasing power through multiple steps, ultimately raising power to 100%.
The work points to an in-service date of May or June, with completion of the second new reactor at the plant south of Augusta – Unit 4 – due a year later.
Commercial operation of the Plant Vogtle expansion has been a long time coming. The Georgia Public Service Commission approved the project 14 years ago at an estimated cost of about $14 billion to be divided between Georgia Power and three utility partners.
But the work has hit a series of delays that have put the project seven years behind and driven up the cost to more than twice the original estimate.
The project has been dogged since its inception by criticism from environmental groups and consumer advocates that it’s too expensive. Despite the work being so close to completion, opponents continue to call for an alternative approach to expanding the nuclear plant.
“Georgia Power’s glacially paced rush to build antiquated nuclear reactors has committed Georgia to a sadly out-of-date energy profile,” said Glenn Carroll, coordinator of Nuclear Watch South. “Our state is blessed with abundant wind and solar which can fuel all of our energy needs. It would still be beneficial in the long-run to abandon Plant Vogtle and pursue sustainable, clean energy.”
But Georgia Power officials say the Plant Vogtle expansion remains an essential part of the utility’s commitment to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to its 2.7 million customers for the next 60 to 80 years.
Once operating, the two new units are expected to power more than 500,000 homes and businesses.