US Getting its First New Nuclear Reactor after 40 Years

By Sophia Francise

June 7, 2023
Alvin Ward Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant

The first new nuclear reactor built in the U.S. in the last 40 years reached a milestone last week, the plant in Waynesboro, Georgia, was close to syncing up with the electrical grid and generating power for customers. 

After over a decade of construction and spiraling costs, Plant Vogtle Unit Three started producing power at its total capacity in May.

It’s expected to come online this month after a final round of tests.1

Completing the new reactors is a major milestone for nuclear energy in the United States. The new units at Plant Vogtle were the first nuclear construction approved in decades and are the country’s only new reactors in progress. 

The two new reactors are joining two existing ones at Plant Vogtle, when all four reactors are online, it will be the largest nuclear-generating complex in the U.S., surpassing the output of the three-reactor site at Palo Verde, Arizona.

The Vogtle expansion entails installing two AP1000 pressurized-water reactors from Westinghouse.

The climate crisis has made nuclear power more appealing due to its ability to generate enough electricity without burning fossil fuels.

Vogtle reactors can generate enough electricity to power half a million American homes, making them an important complement to renewable energy sources.

Building of the Plant Vogtle New Reactors

Construction for the two reactors started in 2009, with plans to get them online by 2017, the Vogtle construction was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2012, and the project was hailed as the dawn of a new nuclear age. 

“The resurgence of America’s nuclear industry starts here in Georgia, where you’ve just got approval for the first time in three decades to build new nuclear reactors,” then-Energy Secretary Stephen Chu told workers at the plant as construction got underway.

But throughout its decade of construction, the project has also been plagued by cascading delays and climbing costs.

The Plant Vogtle reactors are a design called AP1000 by developer Westinghouse, they were chosen since they could be built cheaper and faster. 

But the cost estimate jumped immediately when it came time to build, Ramana said, all of this was predictable, he said, because similar issues have plagued most other nuclear projects. 

The first reactor was scheduled to come online in 2016; it’s hitting that milestone seven years later, and the total price tag has doubled to more than $30 billion.

The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office provided about $12 billion in loan guarantees to help complete the project against spending freezes and lawsuits.2

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According to the utility, Unit 4 is expected to be placed in service in late 2023 or early 2024.

References

  1. Emily Jones, ‘First US nuclear reactor in 40 years goes online soon in Georgia’, Grist, 6 June 2023, https://grist.org/energy/first-us-nuclear-reactor-40-years-online-georgia/. Accessed 7 June 2023[]
  2. Department of Energy, ‘Secretary Perry Announces Financial Close on Additional Loan Guarantees During Trip to Vogtle Advanced Nuclear Energy Project’, 22 March 2019, https://www.energy.gov/articles/secretary-perry-announces-financial-close-additional-loan-guarantees-during-trip-vogtle[]
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