Vogtle 3 approved to load fuel

04 August 2022

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has authorised Southern Nuclear Operating Company to load nuclear fuel and begin operation at Vogtle Unit 3 in Georgia, marking the transition of the AP1000 unit from construction oversight into the operating reactor oversight process.

Inside Vogtle 3's control room (Image: Georgia Power)

Plant owner Georgia Power said the regulator's so-called 103(g) finding for the plant - confirming that unit has been constructed and will be operated in conformance with the terms of its combined construction and operation licence (COL) and NRC regulations - is a historic milestone for the project. The finding clears the way for the operator to load fuel and begin the start-up sequence for the new unit.

"Today's finding by the NRC helps ensure we have met our commitment to building Vogtle 3 and 4 with the highest safety and quality standards," Georgia Power Chairman, President and CEO Chris Womack said. "These new units remain a strong long-term investment for this state, and, once operating, are expected to provide customers with a reliable and resilient, clean, emission-free source of energy for the next 60 to 80 years."

Vogtle 3 is also the first unit to receive authorisation to start up under the NRC's COL process, which the regulator introduced in 1989. Prior to that, US nuclear power plants were licensed under a two-step process requiring both a construction permit and an operating licence.

"This is the first time we've authorised a reactor's initial start-up through our Part 52 licensing process," Andrea Veil, director of the NRC's Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, said. "Before authorisation, we independently verified that Vogtle Unit 3 has been properly built and will protect public health and safety when it transitions to operation. Our resident inspectors at Vogtle will keep a close eye on Unit 3 as the fuel load and startup testing move forward."

The process of satisfying the 398 ITAACs (inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria) outlined in the COL - all verified independently by the NRC - was completed on 29 July. The on-site team is now working on final preparations to load fuel, begin startup testing and bring the unit online, Georgia Power said. The company has previously said it is targeting the end of October to complete loading of the fuel - which is already on site - into the reactor, in order to achieve an in-service date at the end of the first quarter of 2023. Over the following several months, start-up testing will demonstrate the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system at design temperature and pressure with fuel inside the reactor, before the plant is brought to initial criticality and synchronised to the grid.

Construction of Vogtle 3 began in March 2013 and unit 4 in November that year. Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power, both subsidiaries of Southern Company, took over management of the project to build the units in 2017 following Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Unit 4 is now over 96% complete, with a target in-service date of December 2023.

The new units at the Waynesboro site - which is already home to two operating pressuirsed water reactors - are co-owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG Power (22.7%) and the municipality of Dalton (1.6%).

Researched and written by World Nuclear News