Second new reactor at Plant Vogtle begins loading nuclear fuel

The milestone comes weeks after the site’s first new reactor, Unit 3, entered commercial operation
(L-R) Views of units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, in Burke County near Waynesboro, on Monday, July 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

(L-R) Views of units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, in Burke County near Waynesboro, on Monday, July 31, 2023. (Arvin Temkar /

Georgia Power has begun loading nuclear fuel into the second new reactor at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, the company and its partners announced Thursday, another key step toward completing the site’s long-delayed expansion.

Over the next few days, nuclear technicians and operators will load 157 fuel assemblies into Unit 4′s reactor core. Once complete, the company said it will begin startup testing to ensure the unit’s cooling and steam supply systems function as designed with fuel inside the reactor.

From there, the company will seek to begin splitting atoms inside the reactor, before syncing the unit with the electric grid and gradually raising power to 100%, while it performs another barrage of safety tests. Georgia Power said it expects Unit 4 to enter operation before the end of the first quarter of 2024.

The milestone comes just weeks after the site’s other new reactor, Unit 3, made history when it was placed into commercial service, becoming the first new nuclear reactor built from scratch in the U.S. in more than 30 years.

Like Unit 3, Unit 4 will produce enough electricity to power roughly 500,000 homes when it’s complete, without contributing additional heat-trapping greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

(L-R) A view of cooling towers for units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, in Burke County near Waynesboro, on Monday, July 31, 2023. Unit 3 officially entered commercial service Monday. It makes history as the first nuclear reactor built from scratch in the U.S. in more than three decades.(Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Georgia Power owns the largest share of the new units at 45.7%, followed by Oglethorpe Power (30%), the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

In a statement, Oglethorpe Power president and CEO Mike Smith, cheered the news and thanked the “dedicated workforce on site who continue to work tirelessly to bring Unit 4 to safe commercial operation.”

Unit 4 has progressed through the final stages of construction and testing faster than Unit 3 did. Still, the Vogtle expansion has been plagued by delayed and is billions over budget.

Unit 3 entered service on July 31, more than seven years behind schedule. So far, Unit 4 is more than six years late. The total price tag for the Vogtle expansion is more than $35 billion and still growing, more than double Georgia Power’s initial forecast.

Fuel load is a critical step toward Unit 4′s completion, but it is also significant for ratepayers: Once all fuel rods have been inserted, a series of closely-watched hearings will be scheduled for the five members of the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) to decide how much of the project’s remaining costs will be paid for by Georgia Power customers.

Ratepayers are already expected to see an increase of roughly $5.40 starting in the August billing period, triggered by the completion of Unit 3. But they could ultimately pay far more in the months and years to come.

PSC staff experts have testified that if state regulators allow the company to collect $7.7 billion in Vogtle costs through rates — a figure Georgia Power has used in its own modeling — it could lead to a monthly bill increase for residential customers of $14.10 per month on average for the first five years after the units are complete. The monthly increase would drop slightly to $13.20 for the next five years. Those figures include the rate bump that is already set to kick in now that Unit 3 is in operation.

It was not immediately clear when hearings on Vogtle’s remaining costs would start, but they are likely to begin later this year.

A note of disclosure

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