Two nuclear reactors in Georgia were supposed to herald a nuclear power revival in the United States. But the project is seven years late and $17 billion over budget as Georgia Power Co. announced the first new reactor at its Plant Vogtle could reach full electrical output by Saturday.
They’re the first U.S. reactors built from scratch in decades — and maybe the most expensive power plant ever. Georgia electric customers have already paid billions, and state regulators will ultimately decide if they’re on the hook for billions more.
Some of the key promises of Vogtle — like building modules offsite and shipping them for cheaper on-site assembly — did not pan out. Construction delays drove Westinghouse Electric Co., a titan of American industrial history, into bankruptcy when the company couldn’t absorb overruns.
And the lessons could be important because government officials and some utilities are again looking to nuclear power to alleviate climate change by generating electricity without burning natural gas, coal and oil.
Vogtle’s new Unit 3 began generating power in March and is scheduled to reach commercial operation by June. Unit 4 is next door on the same rural Burke County site 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, along with two older reactors. It’s supposed to be finished by early 2024.
Georgia Power and its parent, Atlanta-based Southern Co., say the reactors are a triumph. Chris Womack, before he ascended from Georgia Power to become Southern Co. CEO, told The Associated Press that Vogtle is “absolutely” a success, arguing reliable power and cheap fuel costs will benefit the utility’s 2.7 million customers for decades.
“We recognize the upfront cost and some of the challenges that we faced,” Womack said in January at Vogtle. “But yeah, this is value. This is value contribution to customers, to the state, to the energy grid, to bringing back the nuclear industry and showing that we can do hard things.”
As with Vogtle, supporters of future nuclear plants promise new-and-improved designs can be mass-produced at reliable prices. But Vogtle opponents scorn renewed nuclear ambitions.
“I don’t see how anybody in their right mind cannot avoid saying ‘Well, what evidence do you have?’” said David Schlissel, a utility analyst who testified against Units 3 and 4 after fighting the first two Vogtle reactors in the 1970s. They also finished fabulously late and over…
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