Smiley face
Weather     Live Markets

The second new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle in Georgia has finally entered commercial operation after facing delays and cost overruns. This reactor, Unit 4, joins Unit 3 which began commercial operation last summer. These reactors are the first two nuclear reactors built in the United States in decades and are part of a project that is estimated to have cost Georgia Power and its partners $31 billion. The total cost, including the $3.7 billion paid by the original contractor to walk away from construction, is close to $35 billion. The original projection for the cost of the reactors was $14 billion with a completion date of 2017, but the final cost and completion date ended up being significantly higher.

Despite the high cost and delays, the completion of the Vogtle plant has been celebrated by utilities and political supporters. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has referred to it as a “historic achievement” and the CEO of Southern Co., which owns Georgia Power, believes that the new reactors will make the state’s electrical grid more reliable and help in achieving their goal of zeroing out carbon emissions by 2050. Each of the new reactors can power 500,000 homes and businesses without releasing any carbon, making them an important contributor to the push for carbon-free electricity. Some opponents of the Vogtle project have acknowledged that nuclear power is necessary to achieve carbon-free electricity in the United States.

However, the high cost of the Vogtle project has raised concerns about the future of nuclear power in the United States. While some utilities are looking to nuclear power as a way to alleviate climate change, the cost of projects like Vogtle could deter them from pursuing similar endeavors. American utilities have already shelved plans for 24 other reactors proposed between 2007 and 2009, and two half-built reactors in South Carolina were abandoned. Despite this, Westinghouse, the original contractor of Vogtle, is marketing the reactor design abroad, with countries like China, Bulgaria, Poland, and Ukraine expressing interest in building nuclear power stations using the same design.

Most electric customers in Georgia will bear the financial burden of the Vogtle project, with Georgia Power owning a significant portion of the reactors. Regulators have approved a 6% rate increase on Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers to pay for the remaining costs of Vogtle, with the typical residential customer expected to pay an additional $8.97 a month starting in May. This cost, coupled with the realization that Vogtle’s electricity will likely never be cheaper than other sources available to the owners, has raised concerns about the excessive cost of the project.

Ultimately, the completion of the Vogtle project highlights both the potential and challenges of nuclear power in the United States. While the new reactors are a significant step towards carbon-free electricity and have garnered support from utilities and government officials, questions about the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of similar projects linger. Whether the Vogtle reactors will perform well for the next 80 years to justify their cost remains to be seen, but they represent a significant milestone in the country’s energy landscape.

© 2024 Globe Echo. All Rights Reserved.