Vogtle Unit 4 Achieves Commercial Operation, Now Largest Nuclear Power Plant in the U.S.

The road was long and the challenges difficult, but Plant Vogtle is now the largest nuclear power plant in the U.S., as Unit 4 was declared commercially operational on April 29. With four units now available, Plant Vogtle has the capacity to generate a total of about 4,664 MW of electricity.

“The completion of the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear generation plant to include Unit 3 and now Unit 4 is a hallmark achievement for Southern Company, the state of Georgia, and the entire United States,” said Chris Womack, chairman, president, and CEO of Southern Company. “Working with our partners across government, industry, labor, and beyond, we have added new nuclear generation to the diverse energy resources that enhance the reliability, resiliency, and affordability of our system as we work to achieve our goal to be net zero by 2050. These new Vogtle units not only will support the economy within our communities now and in the future, they demonstrate our global nuclear leadership.”

The Vogtle site is located near Waynesboro, Georgia (Figure 1). The plant is operated by Southern Nuclear on behalf of co-owners Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power, 22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%). Units 1 and 2 entered commercial operation in June 1987 and May 1989, respectively, while Unit 3 achieved commercial operation last July.

1. Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4. Courtesy: Georgia Power

“The completion of the Vogtle expansion project signifies the culmination of a remarkable journey filled with dedication, perseverance, and a commitment to a cleaner energy future for Georgians,” said Oglethorpe Power President and CEO Mike Smith. “We celebrate not only the completion of this important emission-free resource but also the historic achievement it represents as the first advanced commercial nuclear project in the nation in more than three decades.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a Georgian as our state continues to grow and thrive, with new demand for more clean energy each year. The new Vogtle units are a key piece of our strategy to meet the energy needs of our customers not only tomorrow, but 20 years from now,” said Kim Greene, chairman, president, and CEO of Georgia Power. “As we mark the completion of the Vogtle 3 and 4 expansion, we’re grateful for the leadership and foresight of the Georgia PSC [Public Service Commission], as well as the steadfast dedication from all of the project’s co-owners. I’m also so proud of the teams who have worked tirelessly to deliver the first newly constructed nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years—representing a long-term investment that will benefit our customers and the state of Georgia for decades to come.”

Georgia Power said nuclear energy provided more than 25% of its generation in 2023, which comes not only from Plant Vogtle, but also from Plant Hatch in Baxley, Georgia. The company said Plant Vogtle has provided “billions of dollars of positive economic impact for Georgia and local communities.” In addition to 800 permanent jobs created by the new units, the site employed more than 9,000 onsite jobs at the peak of construction including engineers, welders, electricians, pipefitters, plumbers, and many more.

Oglethorpe Power said the Vogtle expansion project underscores its dedication to a more sustainable energy future that meets the evolving needs of its member cooperatives and the consumers they serve. “Oglethorpe Power and our members are committed to navigating the transition to cleaner energy while ensuring electricity remains reliable and affordable for electric cooperative consumers. The emission-free energy generated by Unit 4 will play a crucial role in helping us deliver on that mission for generations to come,” Smith said.

The project was not without its struggles, however. Units 3 and 4 utilize Westinghouse’s AP1000 design. Construction began in June 2009 and there have been several changes in the construction team over the years, which included CB&I Stone & Webster Inc. early on, and Fluor Corp. for a period that began in 2015. In 2017, Bechtel was brought in by Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear to take over construction of the project. Bechtel has extensive experience in the nuclear industry, having designed, built, or performed engineering and/or construction services on more than 80% of nuclear plants in the U.S., and having supported the design and construction of 150 nuclear plants worldwide.

When Vogtle Unit 3 achieved commercial operation last year, Bechtel Chairman and CEO Brendan Bechtel said, “We are extremely proud of Bechtel’s part in achieving this milestone. Our team has been 100 percent committed to Vogtle’s completion since being brought in to finish the project.”

“The Plant Vogtle expansion was a highly complex undertaking,” said MEAG Power President and CEO Jim Fuller. “Throughout the entire process our priority has been serving the best interests of our participant communities. Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will be a key component in satisfying the growing energy needs of their citizens and businesses for decades to come.”

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

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