Vogtle Unit 3 Enters Commercial Operation: First ‘Newly Constructed’ U.S. Nuclear Power Plant in Decades

Georgia Power declared Plant Vogtle Unit 3 commercially operational on July 31, 2023, making it the first “newly constructed” nuclear power unit to be added to the U.S. fleet in decades.

“Today is a historic day for the State of Georgia, Southern Company, and the entire energy sector, as we continue transforming the way we power the lives of millions of Americans,” Chris Womack, president and CEO of Southern Company, said in a statement. “With Unit 3 completed, and Unit 4 in the final stages of construction and testing, this project shows just how new nuclear can and will play a critical role in achieving a clean energy future for the United States. Bringing this unit safely into service is a credit to the hard work and dedication of our teams at Southern Company and the thousands of additional workers who have helped build that future at this site, as well as all of the partners who have helped make this day a reality.”

The Vogtle expansion project is adding two 1,117-MW Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors—Units 3 and 4—to two existing reactors at Plant Vogtle that have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively. Prior to Vogtle Unit 3, the newest reactor to enter service in the U.S. was the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2, which came online in 2016. However, Watts Bar Unit 2 was technically a deferred unit, construction of which began in the 1970s. Therefore, Southern Company has long considered the Vogtle project the first “newly constructed” reactor to be built in the U.S. since at least Comanche Peak Unit 2, which entered commercial operation in August 1993, or Watts Bar Unit 1, which entered service in May 1996.

Progress has also been noted on Unit 4. Last week, Georgia Power announced the receipt of the 103(g) finding from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for Vogtle Unit 4. This finding was confirmed in an official letter received by Southern Nuclear, and signifies that the new unit has been constructed and will be operated in conformance with the Combined License and NRC regulations. No further NRC findings are necessary in order for Southern Nuclear to load fuel or begin the startup sequence for Unit 4.

Once all four units are online at Plant Vogtle, it will be the largest nuclear power station in the U.S. Southern Nuclear will operate the new units on behalf of the co-owners: Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities.

“The Plant Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion is another incredible example of how Georgia Power is building a reliable and resilient energy future for our state,” said Kim Greene, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power. “It is important that we make these kinds of long-term investments and see them through so we can continue providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to our 2.7 million customers. Today’s achievement is a testament to our commitment to doing just that, and it marks the first day of the next 60 to 80 years that Vogtle Unit 3 will serve our customers with clean, reliable energy.”

The Vogtle project has been fraught with delays and cost overruns over the years. Based on original projections, Unit 3 was expected to enter service in 2016. Contractor changes and other problems led to extensive delays, which also caused the costs for the units to skyrocket. Some estimates suggest costs may have doubled from original estimates to more than $30 billion. Still, Southern Company considers completion of Unit 3 a major victory.

“The Vogtle expansion is an American energy success story and would not be possible without the support of strong public and private partners like our partners at North America’s Building Trades Unions,” said Tom Fanning, chairman of the Board of Directors for Southern Company. Fanning was the CEO of Southern Company from December 2010 through earlier this year, which included the majority of the Vogtle expansion project period. “We continue to appreciate their support and those who have stood with us at the local, state and federal levels to complete this new clean energy source to serve electric customers. Providing leadership in our industry and a commitment to safety and quality are in Southern Company’s DNA. Today’s milestone at the Vogtle expansion site underscores this legacy, and I couldn’t be prouder of the dedication our teams have shown in seeing Unit 3 through to completion.”

The final stages of construction and testing continue at Vogtle Unit 4, with the unit projected to be placed in service during the late fourth quarter 2023 or the first quarter of 2024. The unit completed hot functional testing in May, in significantly less time than Unit 3 as the team continues leveraging best practices and learnings from the earlier unit, Georgia Power said. The Vogtle site has also received nuclear fuel for Unit 4, which includes a total of 157 fuel assemblies.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@POWERmagazine).

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