SHELL BLUFF, Ga. — Plant Vogtle is being watched around the world as a symbol of America’s reawakened nuclear program, according to the chairman of France’s Atomic Energy and Alternative Energy Commission.
“If something is going well here, all nations benefit,” said Bernard Bigot, who toured the Burke County site Monday with U.S. Energy Department officials. “And if something is wrong, everyone shares.”
France generates 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear sources – the highest percentage of any nation – and is second only to the U.S. in the number of commercial nuclear power reactors.
Plant Vogtle’s $14 billion expansion represents the first new commercial reactors to be built in the U.S. in three decades, so it will be watched closely by other nations, he said.
In particular, the world will be watching to see if its operator – Southern Nuclear – is able to complete the project safely, on time and within budget.
“It is a great concern, everywhere, of people investing in nuclear,” he said, adding that he is confident the Vogtle project will be a success of which the nation can be proud.
“The U.S. has been the first nation to move on with nuclear, and it has the largest fleet,” he said. “It is a time when you need to show to the public that we can move on.”
The Vogtle project received the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s first-ever combined operating license in February, which authorized the construction and operation of two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. The units are scheduled to begin producing electricity in 2016 and 2017.
A second project, S.C. Electric & Gas Company’s V.C. Summer expansion, was authorized a few weeks later and is also under way. Like Vogtle, the Summer expansion includes two AP1000 reactors.
Bigot plans to share his observations with nuclear power officials in France.
“Nuclear has no borders,” he said. “It is very important to share knowledge, especially to take it back to our political leaders.”