Building the future of carbon-free nuclear energy: Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4

Nuclear power is a critical component of meeting net zero goals and an important and strategic energy source for the U.S. given its carbon-free output and low operating cost.

Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, are building two new nuclear reactors, the first to be built in the U.S. in 30 years, to meet the rising demand for electricity in Georgia and provide a safe, reliable, and cost-effective form of energy without increasing the emission of greenhouse gases.

Plant Vogtle, based in Waynesboro, Georgia, is an essential part of Southern Company’s goal to be net zero by 2050 and Georgia Power’s commitment to deliver clean and affordable energy to its customers, especially as Georgia’s population will expand by more than 4 million by 2030.

In 2017, the utilities hired Bechtel to complete Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, which are the only new nuclear units currently being constructed in the U.S. While Unit 3 is scheduled to begin producing power in early 2023, Unit 4 is scheduled to begin in late 2023. Once running, the two units will produce enough electricity to power 500,000 homes and businesses. 

With Vogtle deemed a national priority as the only remaining nuclear plant expansion underway in the U.S., the Department of Energy is supporting the project with $12 billion in loan guarantees. 

Benefits of nuclear power

Nuclear energy is the largest clean energy source in the U.S., producing more carbon-free electricity than all other sources combined, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In 2020, data showed that nuclear energy generated more than half of the U.S.’s emission-free electricity, which was:

  • More than 2.5 times the amount generated by hydropower,
  • More than 2 times the amount from wind, and
  • More than 8 times the amount from solar power.

Additionally, Plant Vogtle will prevent up to 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to removing one million cars from the road each year.

The energy created from one uranium fuel pellet, which is about the size of a fingertip, is comparable to one ton of coal or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, and unlike renewables, nuclear energy is “baseload” power available 24/7 regardless of sun or wind.

Largest jobs-producing site in Georgia

The project is currently the largest jobs-producing construction site in the state of Georgia with more than 7,000 workers and more than 800 permanent jobs available once the units begin operating.

The project also supports U.S. service members, with more than 30% of its hires being veterans and reservists.

Protecting native species

Out of the site’s 3,100 acreage, nearly one-third is devoted to supporting native species and replanting loblolly and longleaf pine trees. Plant Vogtle has been a certified wildlife habitat by the Wildlife Habitat Council since 1993, and it has a Safe Harbor Agreement with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The site also participates in local environmental education programs and manages habitats for species such as bluebirds, woods ducks, and wild turkey.

Nuclear expertise

Bechtel helped the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission make history in 1951 when it built the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I in Idaho. The plant was the first use of nuclear fission to generate electricity.

Since then, we have supported the design and construction of 150 nuclear plants worldwide. These plants have added more than 74,000 megawatts of new nuclear generation capacity to the world. Our experience also includes providing engineering and/or construction services to 80% of U.S. nuclear plants.

Most recently, we have worked on the first two U.S. nuclear plant projects of the 21st century: Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 and Plant Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4.

Fast facts

  • Based in Waynesboro, Georgia, Bechtel took over construction in 2017 for Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear.
  • Units 3 & 4 will provide 500,000 homes and businesses with electricity.
  • Vogtle Units 3 & 4 are the first Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units to be built in the U.S.
  • The AP1000 units are Generation III+ advanced pressurized water reactors that rely on gravity and natural circulation for core cooling rather than operators or mechanical assistance. 

Keep up to date with Vogtle’s construction schedule and news at Georgia Power.