Six years late and with costs ballooning from an original estimate of $14 billion to more than $30 is close to paying off at the Vogtle Plant expansion project as Georgia Power said Wednesday that fuel loading had begun for the Unit 3.
One hundred-fifty-seven fuel assemblies will be transferred from the cooling storage pool to the reactor core of the 1,117MWe Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor with a full load an first criticality expected within weeks. Prior to this, an initial round of tests will be conducted to simulate operations under full pressure and high temperatures. After criticality is reached, the plant will then undergo ascension tests, which is a gradual build up of power from zero to 100 percent.
“The Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear unites represent a critical, long-term investment in our state’s energy future and the milestone of loading fuel for Unit 3 demonstrates the steady and evident progress at the nuclear expansion site,” said Chris Womack, Chairman, president and Chief Executive Officer at Georgia Power.
“We’re making history here in Georgia and the U.S. as we approach bringing online the first new nuclear unit to be built in the country in over 30 years,” he said.
The two new units, including Unit 4, are both expected to enter into commercial operations status in 2023.
The delays, meanwhile, have been long and costly. Unit 3 was originally expected to enter into commercial service in 2016, followed by Unit 4 in 2017. Major disruptions came about with the March 2011 nuclear power accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan that provoked a reassessment of safety standards around the world, the recent pandemic and the Westinghouse bankruptcy that rattled investors. In September 2017, South Carolina Electric and Gas, a subsidiary of SCANA Corp, announced it would cancel the completion of two AP1000 units, laying off about 5,000 workers and saying good-bye to about $9 billion in spending. Westinghouse declared bankruptcy in March of that year and emerged from bankruptcy proceedings in August 2018, having pared down to a company focused on nuclear power service rather than new plant construction.
With Vogle Units 3 and 4 years away from completion, Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, along with partners Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities, decided to forge on.
Wednesdays announcement was touted as “great news,” by Oglethorpe Power President and CEO Michael Smith. “We are one step closer to bringing Unit 3 online to deliver emission-free, reliable baseload energy for EMC consumers for the next 60 to 80 years.”
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