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Next Step for GA Nuclear Plant

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    The cooling towers of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)


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A nuclear power plant in Georgia can begin loading radioactive fuel into one of its two new reactors, federal regulators say. That’s a key step toward producing electricity at the first new nuclear reactor built in decades in the United States.

The Southern Nuclear Operating Co. hopes to start loading fuel in October. This is its third reactor at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, nicknamed Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, Georgia. The first two reactors were built in the late 1980s.

Andrea Veil is director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRC). She says inspectors “independently verified that Vogtle Unit 3 has been properly built.” They will continue to monitor the reactor as it starts operating.

The third and a fourth reactor were approved for construction in 2012. The third reactor was supposed to start generating power in 2016. But delays slowed that goal. Now it’s scheduled for the end of March 2023.

Approval of the third reactor was impeded in recent months because much of its wiring had to be redone. Regulators found major flaws. Southern Co. also had fallen behind on inspection documents. Those had to be completed before the NRC could sign off.

Originally, builders thought the new reactors would cost $14 billion. That’s climbed to more than $30 billion.

Company officials say that before fuel could be loaded, the company also needed to remove scaffolding, temporary lighting, and other construction equipment. The nuclear containment unit had to be in “pristine condition” before loading fuel.

The fuel is already on site. After it’s loaded, operators will run tests. They must make sure that the reactor can operate at the extreme temperature and pressure needed to split atoms. (Read more about nuclear fission and fusion in One Step Closer to Fusion Power.) Once those tests are done, operators will link the plant to the electrical grid.

Vogtle is the only nuclear plant under construction in the United States. Its costs and delays could deter other utilities from building such plants. But nuclear power has benefits that fossil fuel plants can’t match. For instance, it produces much more power with far less air pollution.

“Once operating, [the new units] are expected to provide customers with a reliable and resilient, clean, emission-free source of energy for the next 60 to 80 years,” Georgia Power CEO Chris Womack says. “That’s why we’ve been so committed to getting this project done right. It’s about serving our customers today and for decades to come.”

(The cooling towers of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia. Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)