Unit 3 of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in the US state of Georgia was connected to the grid on 31 July, the first new nuclear unit to come into operation in the US in seven years.
The unit has begun serving about 500,000 home and business customers, operator Georgia Power said in a statement. Located near Waynesboro, Georgia, Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4 are the first new-build nuclear unit projects approved by the U.S. government since a serious accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.
Georgia Power expects its Unit 4 to be operational by the end of this year or early next year.
The statement said the new operating unit is a long-term investment in Georgia’s clean energy future, and will provide customers with “reliable and zero-emission” energy for decades to come; once all four units are in operation, the Vogtle plant will be the nation’s largest clean-energy power plant.
The Georgia Municipal Power Agency has estimated that the project cost for Units 3 and 4 of the plant has exceeded $30 billion, far exceeding the originally announced budget of $14 billion. Due to the cost overruns, the original investor, Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Japan’s Toshiba Corporation, filed for bankruptcy reorganisation in 2017 and withdrew from the project.
The last nuclear unit in the United States to be connected to the grid was Unit 2 of the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant in Tennessee. It began construction in 1973, but was shut down for more than 20 years in between and did not officially operate until 2016.
Including unit 2 of the Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant and unit 3 of the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant, only three new nuclear power units have been put into operation in the United States since 1990, AFP reported.
At this stage, some nuclear power companies are turning their attention to a new generation of smaller units, the small modular nuclear power unit. It is cheaper, takes less time to build and is relatively safer.