Eyes across the nation are watching the construction of two nuclear reactors rising out of the red-clay ground about 30 miles south of Augusta.
The Alvin W. Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Ga., is using a new design and new construction method to build the first reactors licensed in the U.S. in more than three decades.
As the first generation of nuclear reactors moves toward retirement, Plant Vogtle’s expansion represents a critical moment for the future of the industry.
“It is the most important thing going on in the U.S. in the nuclear industry right now,” said Buzz Miller, the executive vice president of nuclear development for Atlanta-based Georgia Power.
More than 3,000 construction workers are building the nuclear islands and cooling towers for Vogtle Units 3 and 4. Around the world, 70 nuclear reactors are under construction. Only five of those are in the U.S., including two at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant near Columbia.
“This is the biggest infrastructure project in Georgia, and, if not the largest, one of the largest in the United States,” Miller said.
In February, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signed a $6.5 billion federal loan guarantee to help Southern Co. and Oglethorpe Power finance the new reactors.
Loan guarantees were developed in 2005 as an incentive to help build nuclear reactors, but several other projects stalled as natural gas prices plunged.
The Vogtle project is closely watched by other utility companies as the nation pushes to diversify its energy infrastructure, Miller said.
“The world is looking at us,” he said. “As we progress and show success, it’s going to embolden others to build.”
In early March, a 560-foot heavy-lift derrick, one of the world’s largest cranes, lifted a 1,110-ton submodule into its final resting place on the Unit 3 nuclear island.
The Westinghouse AP1000 units are expected to begin producing power in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 2018 with a total price tag of $14 billion.