Photo by John Howanitz, President, NS&E, Bechtel
In 2017, Bechtel was brought in by Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear to take over construction of the Waynesboro, Georgia-based plant, bringing our extensive experience supporting the design and construction of 150 nuclear plants worldwide.
Bechtel’s nuclear expertise began in 1951 when our colleagues helped the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission make history by building the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I in Idaho. The plant was the first use of nuclear fission to generate electricity.
Since then, Bechtel has 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.
Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are the first U.S. deployment of the Westinghouse AP1000 Generation III+ reactor. The reactor is an evolutionary improvement over existing reactors. In addition to advanced safety systems, the AP1000 has a smaller footprint and simpler design, and uses less piping, valves, and pumps than older designs.
Project Impact and Milestones
Plant Vogtle, based in Waynesboro, 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 the state’s population expands by a projected more than 4 million by 2030.
- Receipt of Nuclear Fuel (Unit 4) – Vogtle Unit 4 began receiving nuclear fuel in May 2023. Since the first fuel delivery on May 3, 157 fuel assemblies have arrived by truck in shipping cannisters designed to transport non-irradiated uranium. Once delivered, assemblies are removed from the cannisters, one-by-one, and lifted into the fuel handling area, where they are inspected and safely stored in a fuel vault prior to fuel loading, which is projected to occur later this year.
- Completion of Hot Functional Testing (Unit 4) – Hot functional testing for Unit 4 was completed on May 1.
- Synchronization to the Grid (Unit 3) – In April, Vogtle Unit 3 generated electricity for the first time, and successfully synchronized and connected to the electric grid.
- Initial Criticality (Unit 3) – In March operators safely started the nuclear reaction inside the reactor for the first time, splitting atoms and producing heat, which is used to produce steam that powers the unit’s turbines.
Largest Jobs-Producing Site in Georgia
The project was the country’s second-largest construction project and the largest jobs-producing construction site in the state of Georgia, with as many as 9,000 workers on site at the peak of construction and more than 800 permanent jobs available once the units begin operating.
Through our partnership with NABTU, we successfully staffed the project at the time by utilizing Apprenticeship Readiness Programs (ARPs) and hiring veterans through Helmets to Hardhats. More than 30% of Vogtle hires were veterans and reservists.
ARP apprentices have the opportunity to “earn while they learn” working toward journeyperson status while receiving healthcare and retirement benefits. More than 40% of ARP apprentices at Vogtle were women, and more than 80% were from underrepresented groups.
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.
Protecting the native floral and fauna has been an essential component to the Vogtle team’s work on site. We work with local bird rehabilitation facilities to successfully rehabilitate threatened and protected bird species, including the peregrine falcon and turkey vulture. Additionally, the Vogtle team works with local beekeepers to protect the bee population. Together, they have collected and relocated honeybees to established hive areas, preserving a vital resource for the local environment.
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.
Keep up to date with Vogtle’s construction schedule and news at Georgia Power.