ATLANTA (AP) — A new reactor at a nuclear power plant in Georgia has completed a key testing phase, getting one step closer to generating electricity.
Georgia Power Co. said Monday that the fourth reactor at Plant Vogtle, southeast of Augusta, has completed what is called hot functional testing. Such testing involves heating up the reactor to the extreme pressure and temperature required to split atoms.
That means the unit of the Atlanta-based Southern Co. can start loading radioactive fuel into the reactor once it completes construction documentation and gets approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Southern Co. told investors last week that it expects to start loading fuel sometime between July and October, aiming for the reactor to reach commercial operation between December and March 2024.
Fuel has already been loaded into the third reactor at the site, and it has begun generating electricity. Georgia Power says it is slated to reach commercial operation by the end of June.
Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle are the first new reactors built from scratch in decades in the United States.
The first two reactors have been generating electricity at Vogtle for decades. A third and a fourth reactor were approved for construction at Vogtle by the Georgia Public Service Commission in 2009, and the third reactor was supposed to start generating power in 2016.
The cost of the third and fourth reactors was originally supposed to be $14 billion. The reactors are now on track to cost the owners $31 billion. That doesn’t include $3.68 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid to the owners after going bankrupt, which brings total spending to almost $35 billion.
Georgia Power CEO Kim Greene said the company was able to complete testing more quickly on the fourth reactor thanks to lessons learned from the third reactor. Its tests lasted weeks longer than planned.
Georgia Power owns a minority of the two new reactors. The remaining shares are owned by Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Oglethorpe and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia would sell power to cooperatives and municipal utilities across Georgia, as well in Jacksonville, Florida, and parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers are already paying part of the financing cost, and state regulators have approved a monthly rate increase of $3.78 a month as soon as the third unit begins generating power. The elected Georgia Public Service Commission will decide later who pays for the remainder of the costs, including the fourth reactor.