The first U.S. nuclear reactor built from scratch in decades is entering commercial operation in Georgia

ATLANTA (AP) – A new reactor at a Georgia nuclear power plant has entered commercial operation, becoming the first new U.S. reactor built from scratch in decades.

Georgia Power Co. announced Monday that Unit 3 at Plant Vogtlesoutheast of Augusta, has completed testing and is now delivering power to the grid reliably.

At its full output of 1,100 megawatts of electricity, Unit 3 can power 500,000 homes and businesses. Utilities in Georgia, Florida and Alabama are receiving the electricity.

Nuclear power now makes up about 25% of the generation of Georgia Power, the largest unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co.

A fourth reactor is also nearing completion at the site where two previous reactors have produced electricity for decades. This is stated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday radioactive fuel can be loaded into unit 4, a move expected to take place before the end of September. Unit 4 is scheduled to enter commercial operation in March.

The third and fourth reactors were originally supposed to cost $14 billion, but are now on track to cost their owners $31 billion. That doesn’t include $3.7 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid the owners to walk away from the project. That brings total spending to nearly $35 billion.

The third reactor was due to start producing power in 2016, after construction began in 2009.

Vogtle is important because government officials and some utilities are again seeking nuclear power to alleviate climate change by producing electricity without burning natural gas, coal and oil.

“This project demonstrates how new nuclear power can and will play a critical role in achieving a clean energy future for the United States,” Southern Co. said. CEO Chris Womack in a statement. “Bringing this unit safely into service is a credit to the hard work and dedication of our teams at Southern Company and the thousands of additional workers who have helped build the future of this site.”

In Georgia, almost all electricity customers will pay for Vogtle. Georgia Power currently owns 45.7% of the reactors. Minor shares are held by Oglethorpe Power Corp., which provides electricity to member-owned cooperatives, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Oglethorpe and MEAG plan to sell power to cooperatives and municipal utilities throughout Georgia, as well as in Jacksonville, Florida and parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

Georgia Power’s 2.7 million customers already pay a portion of the financing costs, and elected public service commissioners have approved a monthly rate increase of $3.78 per month for residential customers as soon as the third unit starts generating power. That could hit bills in August, two months after residential customers saw a $16 a month increase to pay for higher fuel costs.

Commissioners will later decide who will pay for the rest of the costs for Vogtle, including the fourth reactor.

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