In Georgia, a Milestone for Nuclear Power

For first time in 30 years, a reactor built from scratch has begun operating
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 1, 2023 3:42 PM CDT
In Georgia, a Milestone for Nuclear Power
Plant Vogtle, located in Burke County near Waynesboro, Ga.   (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The good news for advocates of nuclear power is that a built-from-scratch reactor in Georgia has begun operating—the first time that's happened in the US in three decades, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The bad news is that Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro is seven years late and $17 billion over budget, notes the AP, which will wipe out any cost savings for the foreseeable future. Another reactor, Unit 4, is still in the works and is scheduled to begin operating next year, but that one is six years behind schedule and about $14 billon over budget. The plant's first two reactors have been in operation for decades. Despite the delays and cost overruns, Unit 3 is still seen as a milestone.

"This hadn't been done in this country from start to finish in some 30-plus years," said Chris Womack, CEO of Southern Co., parent company of Georgia Power, which runs the plant southeast of Augusta. "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." The new reactor generates 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 500,000 homes and businesses, according to Georgia Power estimates cited by CNBC. It's a "significant achievement for the US nuclear energy industry and a milestone in advancing global clean and reliable energy solutions," said Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, in a statement.

Advocates say nuclear energy should be a vital part of the strategy to shift away from fossil fuels, though Georgia's high construction costs may give planners of future reactors pause. Georgia Power ratepayers will see their monthly bills jump $4 or $5 starting this month now that Unit 3 has begun operating, per the Journal-Constitution. And future increases are on the horizon, though they will be determined in a series of hearings scheduled to begin later this year. Critics including the Southern Environmental Law Center argue that energy generated from solar and wind power would be cheaper. (More nuclear power stories.)

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