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Plant Vogtle expansion clears key hurdle

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has signed off on a critical step leading up to fuel loading at the first of two new nuclear reactors being built at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle.

The commission has confirmed in a letter to Southern Nuclear, which is managing the project, that the new unit has been constructed and will be operated in conformance with NRC regulations. “Today’s finding by the NRC helps ensure we have met our commitment to building Vogtle 3 & 4 with the highest safety and quality standards,” Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, said Wednesday.

“These new units remain a strong long-term investment for this state, and, once operating, are expected to provide customers with a reliable and resilient, clean, emission-free source of energy for the next 60 to 80 years.” The NRC finding means the first new reactor at the nuclear plant south of Augusta is on track to go into service next March after years of delays and cost overruns.

During the next several weeks, technicians will continue work required to support loading fuel, which is already onsite, into the unit’s reactor.

Several months of startup testing will follow, designed to demonstrate the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system at design temperature and pressure with fuel inside the reactor.

Operators also will bring the plant from cold shutdown, systematically raising power to 100%.

Originally expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017, the project has encountered a series of delays, each adding to the price tag.

A key factor in the delays was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, originally the prime contractor for the project. Pandemic- delayed work slowdowns also played a role.

Originally estimated at $14 billion, the project’s cost has more than doubled.

The second new reactor at Vogtle is now forecast for completion during the last quarter of next year.

The delays and cost overruns have prompted the project’s critics to argue Georgia Power could have saved customers billions of dollars by abandoning the nuclear expansion and taken a more aggressive approach toward developing renewable energy. 'Delays, errors and cost overruns have plagued this failed project from the start of construction,” said Glenn Carroll, coordinator of Nuclear Watch South.

“Loading nuclear fuel into this untested reactor design is a risky step that may well proceed similarly, with yet more ominous ramifications upon actual start up.” Georgia Power officials have countered that nuclear power is an important part of a balanced portfolio of energy generating sources.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

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