Officials celebrate Vogtle-3 and -4, hint at future Unit 5

June 3, 2024, 3:00PMNuclear News
Georgia Gov. Kemp and others visited the Vogtle nuclear power plant. (Photo: Gov. Brian Kemp's Office)

As he joined with other state officials and community stakeholders at a celebration last week marking the completion of Vogtle Units 3 and 4, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said there’s potential for a fifth nuclear reactor at the site.

“People in the United States and around the world are looking for an abundant supply of clean energy—and we have that in Georgia,” Kemp said, adding on the potential Unit 5. “Future energy needs are something we need to be talking about now.”

Southern Company’s four-unit Plant Vogtle, located near Waynesboro, Ga., is now the largest nuclear generator in the United States, with capacity to produce more than 30 million megawatt-hours of zero-emission electricity each year.

Call to action: On Friday, U.S. secretary of energy Jennifer Granholm visited the site and praised the visionaries who brought the new plant units to fruition.

“Betting on new designs, new industries, new technologies—it takes guts. But it pays off,” Granholm said. “Years of persistence, through long workdays, and cost challenges, and bankruptcy, and a global pandemic . . . got us to this moment.”

“Southern Company and Waynesboro, they led the way here. But now it is time for others to follow their lead,” she added. “To reach our goal of net zero by 2050, we have to at least triple our current nuclear capacity in this country. That means we’ve got to add 200 more gigawatts by 2050. Okay, two down, 198 to go!”

Building momentum: Vogtle’s two newest units are the first large-scale nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in three decades. Unit 4 entered commercial operation on April 29; Unit 3 started on July 31, 2023. While the project took seven years longer than planned and cost $16 billion more than originally estimated, the new plants will serve as a template for future projects worldwide.

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted late last year to allow Georgia Power to recover almost $7.6 billion of its share of the costs from ratepayers, while the company agreed to absorb about $2.6 billion. That's expected to increase the average monthly residential customer’s bill by $8.97 for Unit 4, on top of a $5.42 rate hike that took effect when Unit 3 began operating.

To help address cost overruns and timeline concerns in new nuclear development, President Biden announced last week the creation of a working group focused on nuclear power project management and delivery. People from across the industry gathered at a White House summit on nuclear power this week to discuss new ideas for adding grid-scale generation.

It’s time for the nuclear industry to “get [its] nerve back,” said Jigar Shah, director of the Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office, at the event. “We need to move forward and take risks.”

Chris Womack, Southern Company’s chief executive, said during Friday’s event with Granholm that there are many things his company would have done differently in hindsight, but some of the challenges were unavoidable. A new supply chain for this type of project was built from scratch; and Westinghouse, the project’s original developer, went through bankruptcy in 2017. But Womack said Southern is eager to pass along lessons learned to other nuclear developers.

Vogtle background: Georgia Power, the largest subsidiary of Southern Nuclear, led the construction of Units 3 and 4. Both are Westinghouse AP1000 units and are expected to operate for the next 60–80 years. Construction of the units began in 2012, and the project experienced setbacks. Vogtle-3 was originally expected to come on line in 2016, with Vogtle-4 in quick succession.

Project construction provided billions in positive economic impact for Georgia and local communities. In addition to the 800 permanent jobs created, the sites employed more than 9,000 onsite jobs at peak construction.

Kemp said the plant is a huge selling point when pitching Georgia to international investors, especially electric car companies, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturers.

Quotable: “It’s an exciting time to be a Georgian as our state continues to grow and thrive, with new demand for more clean energy each year. The new Vogtle units are a key piece of our strategy to meet the energy needs of our customers not only tomorrow, but 20 years from now,” said Kim Greene, chair, president, and CEO of Georgia Power.

Granholm said, “To all of you who dreamed and toiled to make this happen: You are both the generals and foot soldiers on the front line in this battle against the most relentless foe, which is climate change.”

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