It has been a long time coming, but U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will travel to Waynesboro, Ga., Feb. 20, to mark the issuance of approximately $6.5 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.

A conditional loan guarantee was offered for the Southern Co. project back in February 2010. The company accepted the offer in June of that year and continued with its efforts to build two new 1,100-MW Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at Vogtle. The site is already home to two reactors each rated at 1,215 MW. Those units came online in 1987 and 1989 respectively, and are owned by the same four companies that will be partners on the new units—Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG Power (22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

Although work began on Units 3 and 4 in 2009, the construction and operating license for the two new units did not gain Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval until February of 2012. Now another milestone has been reached with the issuance of the Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee.

“The construction of new nuclear power facilities like this one—which will provide carbon-free electricity to well over a million American energy consumers—is not only a major milestone in the Administration’s commitment to jumpstart the U.S. nuclear power industry, it is also an important part of our all-of-the-above approach to American energy as we move toward a low-carbon energy future,” said Secretary Moniz.

Not everyone is applauding the news, however. Katherine Fuchs, a nuclear campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said, “By insuring reactors, American taxpayers are forced to underwrite a financial gamble that Wall Street deems too risky.” Meanwhile, POWER Contributing Editor Kennedy Maize has questioned why the government is subsidizing the project when it’s not clear the companies actually need the support to complete construction.

The roughly $6.5 billion loan guarantees are being issued to Georgia Power and Oglethorpe Power. The DOE is continuing to work with MEAG Power on the remaining conditional commitment for a $1.8 billion guarantee.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)