Fuel loaded into Vogtle 4 as epic reactor project nears end

Vogtle nuclear power plant
The company expects Unit 4 to start commercial operation at the end of this year’s fourth quarter or in the first quarter of 2024 (Courtesy of Georgia Power)

US utility Georgia Power started loading fuel into the reactor core of the new Unit 4 at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Georgia on 17 August.

It followed the start of commercial operation of its twin, Unit 3, at the plant on 31 July. Georgia Power says Unit 3 will produce enough electricity to power 500,000 homes and businesses.

The company expects Unit 4 to start commercial operation at the end of Q4 this year, or in the first quarter of 2024.

Loading fuel is part of the reactor’s startup sequence, which Georgia Power began after getting a “103(g)” finding from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 28 July certifying the new reactor’s compliance with regulations.

These milestones signal the start of the final lap in the epic project to build the two AP1000 reactors, considered a third generation of reactor design.

When plans were approved by the state of Georgia in 2009, owners expected Units 3 and 4 to be operational by 2016 and 2017, with a combined cost of $14bn.

Recent estimates put the combined cost of the units at over $30bn, energy experts at Columbia University noted recently.

Causes of delays

Citing a report issued by the US Department of Energy in March this year, they list the root causes of the delays and cost overruns as incomplete design, inadequate level of detail in the integrated project schedule, inadequate quality assurance, and poor risk assessment, among other factors.

The bankruptcy of the AP1000’s designer Westinghouse in 2017 complicated efforts, as did the covid pandemic.

With the startup of Unit 3, there are now five AP1000 reactors in operation.

The other four, the Sanmen 1 and 2 and the Haiyang 1 and 2, are in China. Started around the same time as the Vogtle units, they had all begun generating by the end of 2019.

Six more AP1000 reactors are in development around the world.

The Columbia experts said that building AP1000s would be more predictable now that the design is complete and has cleared licensing hurdles, and that the construction supply chain is experienced.

At the Vogtle plant, Southern Nuclear will operate the new units on behalf of their co-owners: Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities.

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