Atlanta, February 9, 2012 – Southern Co. hosted a news conference February 9 to discuss the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of the company’s application to begin full construction on the nation’s first new nuclear units in 30 years at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.
The NRC voted 4-1 to approve the Combined Construction and Operating License for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 – the first license of its type ever approved for a U.S. nuclear plant. Full construction on the project, which is estimated to cost about $13.3 billion, can now begin.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, who supported the project throughout the licensing process, dissented, saying he was concerned that the reactors would not meet certain safety requirements put in place since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi accident.
Southern Co. chairman, president and CEO Thomas A. Fanning, said the NRC’s approval is a vindication of the broad-based national energy policy his company has advocated for.
“Today marks a monumentous occasion for the citizens that we serve and for our nation’s energy policy. We need to use all the arrows in our quiver: nuclear, 21st Century coal, renewable energy and energy efficiency,” Fanning said. “No single energy technology will meet all of our needs, but nuclear energy is a dominant solution, and today we take a huge step.”
The project is estimated to cost about $13.3 billion, create as many as 5,000 direct and indirect construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs. Georgia Power’s share is projected at about $6.1 billion, which includes about $1.7 billion of financing costs to be collected during construction.
The project is expected to benefit from both production tax credits and Department of Energy loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. Southern Co. and the DOE agreed on final terms for the Plant Vogtle loan guarantees on June 18, 2010.
Total guaranteed loans cannot exceed 70 percent of the company’s eligible projected costs, or about $3.4 billion, and will be funded by the Federal Financing Bank. Fanning said project partners would close on the DOE loan guarantees around or about the second quarter of 2012.
W. Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s president and CEO said this project will provide both construction jobs and clean energy for decades.
“Today is the culmination of seven years of hard work by the employees working for Southern Co. and Georgia Power and our subsidiaries. None of this would have been possible without the support of our past Gov. Sonny Perdue or our current Gov. Nathan Deal and the members of the Georgia General Assembly,” Bowers said. “Nuclear energy is an important part of our energy portfolio, and this project will provide efficient and clean energy for years to come.”
Fanning also thanked the Obama administration, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the DOE. He added that about 2,000 workers are currently on the site at Plant Vogtle. This number will ramp up to peak production around 2013, he said.
The project’s primary engineering, procurement and construction contractor is The Shaw Group. Southern Nuclear, a unit of Southern Co., is overseeing construction.
The NRC’s licensing process was thorough and all-inclusive, he said, and Southern Co. is committed to using the best possible technology and safety practices available in building the two new units. Fanning mentioned the lessons his company and the U.S. nuclear industry have learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
“The NRC’s process has been a thoughtful, thorough and complete process,” Fanning said. The events at Fukushima are taken into account every day and will be taken into account for years to come. The American nuclear industry has learned much from the incident and will continue to learn and apply the lessons it learns.” Fanning said.
The technology to be used in this plant, including the Westinghouse AP1000 Generation III+ pressurized water reactor, are capable of weathering potentially disastrous events, such as the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that touched off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
The U.S. government has not licensed a new nuclear reactor since 1978. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred the next year, resulting in the cancelation of dozens of planned reactors.
“When Fukushima happened, our industry responded well. We came to understand the circumstances of the disaster. The technology we are putting into place is the newest, safest nuclear energy technology that we have available to us. This is completely different technology than what we saw back in the ’70s,” Fanning said.
Southern Co. said nuclear industry can offer reliable baseload power that does not emit greenhouse gases, making it an attractive investment for a country whose energy policy needs to be broad based.
“Our industry is one of the most capital-intensive industries that exists. It’s very easy to think of energy in the current state as being the way it will be forever. But just like stockholders don’t pick one certain kind of stock, we want to build a 21st century energy portfolio. We need them all. Just as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, we need an all-of-the-above energy portfolio,” he said.
In September 2010, the NRC found no major environmental issues with the proposed construction of two new units at the site of the existing plant in Georgia.
In August 2009, the NRC issued an early site permit for the two new units. Southern Nuclear filed an application for the early site permit in August 2006.
The company submitted its combined license to the NRC in October 2009. The combined license included information from the Southern Co. environmental report, the early site permit application and the site safety analysis report.
In March 2008, Southern Nuclear Operating Co., a unit of Southern Co., applied for combined licenses to build and operate two Westinghouse AP 1000 nuclear reactor units at Plant Vogtle.
Units 3 and 4 together would generate 2,234 MW and would nearly double the generation capacity of the power plant, from 2,430 MW. Plant Vogtle is owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Utilities.
Preliminary construction work began at the site following the approval of the early site permit. Units 3 and 4 are slated to begin commercial operation in 2016 and 2017, subject to regulatory approvals.
Plant Vogtle is one of Georgia Power’s two nuclear facilities and is one of three nuclear facilities in the Southern Co. system. Plant Vogtle sits on a 3,200-acre site along the Savannah River, in Burke County near Waynesboro, Ga., and about 34 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga.
Unit 1 began commercial operation in May 1987. Unit 2 began commercial operation in May 1989. Each unit is capable of generating 1,215 MW for a total capacity of 2,430 MW. The plant is powered by pressurized water reactors manufactured by Westinghouse. The turbines and electric generators are manufactured by General Electric.
The plant was named for Alvin Vogtle, a past leader of Southern Co. and the inspiration for Steve McQueen’s character in the movie “The Great Escape.”