ATLANTA – Even as construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle remain behind schedule and over budget, Georgia Power is seeking permission from regulators to look at constructing a new reactor.
“We are committed to preserving the option to build new nuclear generation to meet customers’ electric needs in the most reliable and cost-effective manner,” said company spokesman Jacob Hawkins, noting that Georgia will have an estimated 2.4 million added residents by 2030.
Every three years the Georgia Public Service Commission requires Georgia Power to submit an integrated resource plan, or IRP, for what power plants it expected to have operating 20 years in the future. The extended planning horizon is necessary because of how long it takes to build a plant.
Nuclear plants, however, take even longer than those fueled by coal, natural gas or renewable sources.
Commission Chairman Chuck Eaton stressed Tuesday that no ultimate decision on additional reactors will be made in the vote on the plan that Georgia Power filed this year.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that if we do ultimately vote on that topic in the IRP, it will be a vote just to study it,” he said. “It’s not a vote whether we move forward or chose not to construct new nuclear in the future.”
Still, Eaton predicted many consumer and environmental groups will seek to sway the commission before the vote.
Georgia Power has already bought land in Stewart County, population 6,000, on the Chattahoochee River south of Columbus.
Among the tasks it is seeking permission to spend money on during the next five years are scientific evaluations of the site for flooding, earthquakes and adequate water for cooling. It will also evaluate reactor designs, potential contractors and the requirements to get a license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Georgia Power hasn’t yet finished Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, and the first was to have begun operating last Friday. Still it says the initial problems that have delayed the Vogtle additions were understandable hiccups due to starting up reactor production after a 30-year hiatus and that overall the construction in Waynesboro has been exemplary enough to consider replicating.
The planning request is just to allocate funds to keep the nuclear option open, insiders say.
“It’s not a decision on whether there will be new nuclear,” Eaton said. “It’s just a decision on whether to study, which the costs associated with that are not insignificant.”