The $14.8 billion project marks the first new commercial power reactors to be built in the United States in a generation, and is unfolding in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan that raised new questions about nuclear safety and construction standards.
The catalyst that will allow the project to move forward will be the issuance of the first “combined operating license” developed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to simultaneously authorize the construction and the operation of new reactors.
The Vogtle project also heralds the American debut of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, a new design that features a cooling reservoir above the reactor vessel that can be fed into the unit by gravity in the event of an emergency.
Because other proposed nuclear expansions in the U.S. will use the same design, the Vogtle project has been designated as the NRC’s official “reference site” for future AP1000 construction.
Already, about 1,750 workers are in Burke County performing preliminary tasks for the primary nuclear construction. The workforce is expected to grow rapidly once the final licenses are issued, peaking at about 3,500.
The first new unit is scheduled to go online in 2016, followed by the second new unit sometime in 2017.