Georgia Power has announced that Plant Vogtle’s Unit 3 has accomplished a key step toward reaching commercial operation at the first new nuclear reactors built from scratch in decades in the United States.
(Photo courtesy of Georgia Power.)
Georgia Power has announced that Vogtle Unit 3, which crews from Bechtel have been diligently working to complete, has safely reached initial criticality. Initial criticality is a key step during the startup testing sequence and demonstrates that — for the first time —operators have safely started the nuclear reaction inside the reactor. Achieving initial criticality is necessary to continue the startup of the unit in order to generate sufficient heat for the production of electricity.
These new reactors are the first to be constructed in the United States in the past 32 years.
A third and a fourth reactor were approved for construction at Vogtle by the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2009. The company now said Unit 3 could begin commercial operation in May or June. Unit 4 is projected to begin commercial operation sometime between this November and March 2024. Southern Nuclear will operate the new units on behalf of the co-owners Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities.
The cost of the third and fourth reactors was originally supposed to be $14 billion. The reactors are now supposed to cost more than $30 billion.
"We knew building the first new nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years would be challenging, but the project has endured extraordinary circumstances during construction, including the pandemic as the most recent," said Jeff Wilson, Georgia Power spokesman. "Through it all, the project has endured and overcome multiple challenges. Vogtle 3 and 4 remains a critical investment for this state and, once the new units are online, they will provide low-cost, reliable and emissions-free electricity for the state of Georgia for at least 60 to 80 years."
As the largest construction project in the state, Georgia Power's Vogtle project employs more than 7,000 workers and will lead to 800 permanent new jobs upon completion. The construction crews utilized many pieces of heavy equipment including numerous cranes, excavators, dozers, loaders and other standard pieces of equipment.
"The project [faced] significant challenges to performance, particularly in the areas of construction remediation work, work package closure, system turnovers and subcontracted scopes of work, all of which have been exacerbated by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic onsite," stated the Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report. "The project team [prioritized] safety and quality over schedule."
"We remain focused on safely bringing this unit online, fully addressing any issues and getting it right at every level," said Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. "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. When you consider the history of safe and reliable operations at Vogtle Units 1 and 2 for decades now, it puts today's milestone in perspective that Plant Vogtle will be a four-unit site making it the largest of its kind in the U.S. This is a truly exciting time as we prepare to bring online a new nuclear unit that will serve our state with clean and emission-free energy for the next 60 to 80 years."
Vogtle Unit 3 continues with startup testing which demonstrates the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system at design temperature and pressure with fuel inside the reactor. 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, operators will continue increasing power through multiple steps, ultimately raising power to 100 percent. These tests are designed to ensure all systems are operating together and to validate operating procedures prior to declaration of Commercial Operation. The in-service date for Unit 3 is projected during May or June 2023.
The new Vogtle units are an essential part of Georgia Power's commitment to delivering clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to its 2.7 million customers. Once operating, the two new units, which will be clean energy sources that produce zero air pollution, are expected to power more than 500,000 homes and businesses.
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