The US Opens a Brand-New Nuclear Power Plant

Photo by Charles C Watson Jr under CC BY-SA 3.0

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The last time America built a nuclear reactor from scratch My Sharona topped the charts and Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

On Monday, Plant Vogtle Unit 3, a nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia, started delivering energy to utilities in the Southeast US. The project was more than 10 years in the making.

Countdown to One

Plant Vogtle had a turbulent construction story, to say the least. When construction began in 2009, the project was intended to be completed by 2016. That didn’t happen — you can chalk it up to bad timing.

The project was born out of nuclear optimism in 2008 — as interest surged in the carbon-free energy source. Plant Vogtle Unit 3 was one of a dozen new plants planned to be built in the US. But then came the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011, derailing America’s own nuclear future:

  • Of the dozen planned reactors, only four remained in development, with Plant Vogtle Unit 3 the first to be completed. An additional reactor at Plant Vogtle, Unit 4, is scheduled to go live next year.
  • The original $14 billion price tag for both reactors has since soared to over $30 billion.

Completion of Unit 4 may be even more important. “If in the state of Georgia, this project is not completed, there won’t be another nuclear plant built in these United States in decades,” Lauren McDonald, a member of the Georgia Public Service Commission utilities regulator, told the Financial Times.

Power Play: Over half of Georgia’s energy will now be carbon-free, with most of that being nuclear, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. That compares to roughly 18% of US-wide energy coming from nuclear sources, according to the US Energy Information Administration.