The commercial start-up of a new nuclear reactor is now providing Georgia electric cooperatives with reliable baseload electricity and producing enough emission-free energy to meet the needs of more than 500,000 average-sized homes.
“Nuclear energy is increasingly important to the clean energy transition, and Oglethorpe Power’s significant ownership in the Vogtle construction project is a testament to the important investments we’re making that drive us toward a cleaner and more sustainable energy future,” said Oglethorpe Power President & CEO Mike Smith.
The new reactor at Plant Vogtle represents the first utility-scale nuclear unit constructed in the U.S. in more than three decades, since the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Nuclear Power Plant was commissioned in 1996.
Oglethorpe Power, a Tucker, Georgia-based generation cooperative that serves 38 of the state’s 41 distribution co-ops, owns approximately 30% of Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro. Southern Co.’s Georgia Power subsidiary owns 45.7%, and Dalton Utilities and MEAG Power own the remainder. Southern Nuclear is the operator of the plant.
Plant Vogtle, located along the Georgia-South Carolina state line, has been in operation since 1987, when the first of its four units was commissioned. Unit 3, an approximately 1,100-megawatt reactor, went into service July 31. Fuel rod assemblies have been delivered for Unit 4, and it’s expected to enter service by or before the first quarter of 2024.
Units 3 and 4 will bring Vogtle’s total output capacity to more than 4.5 gigawatts. Oglethorpe Power’s stake in the new units is expected to help its member co-ops meet baseload demand with reliable, emission-free energy for the next 60 to 80 years.
“We understand the importance of keeping the lights on in a way that preserves both affordability and reliability, and we are proud that the clean energy generated by Unit 3 will help us deliver on that mission for years to come,” said Smith.
Nuclear energy plants are designed to operate 24/7 and typically require less maintenance downtime than coal- or gas-based generation. Pelletized uranium enclosed in fuel rods is used to generate steam to produce electricity. A single nuclear fuel pellet is about the size of a pencil eraser and can produce as much energy as one ton of coal.
Spent nuclear fuel is stored safely on the Plant Vogtle site for the life of the plant and beyond. Each unit has a cooling tower that recycles and reuses water as part of the cooling system. Most of the water entering the cooling tower condenses inside. Some water vapor rises out of the cooling tower and can be seen in white as it condenses, just like a cloud.
Once all four units are in service, Plant Vogtle will become the largest producer of emission-free energy in the United States.
Developers cite Vogtle’s more than 34-year safety record for its existing units, redundant systems, protective design features compliant with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards and staff training as safeguards for nearby communities.
When Unit 4 enters service, nuclear energy will account for nearly half of the energy Oglethorpe Power generates for its member cooperatives and the 4.4 million Georgians they serve. Oglethorpe Power views the investment as central to its commitment to fuel diversity and price stability for the consumer-members who rely on co-ops to meet their energy needs.
“Oglethorpe Power commends the efforts of the dedicated men and women who make up the Plant Vogtle workforce,” Smith said. “With Unit 3 online and operating safely, homes and businesses across Georgia will be powered by reliable, emission-free nuclear energy for decades.”