Nuclear operators and technicians are now moving fuel into Plant Vogtle Unit 3 as the nuclear generating unit moves closer to entering service.

During fuel load, technicians and operators from Westinghouse and Southern Nuclear are scheduled to transfer 157 fuel assemblies one-by-one from the Unit 3 spent fuel pool to the unit’s reactor core.

Startup testing will begin next and is designed to demonstrate operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system at design temperature and pressure. Operators will also bring the plant from cold shutdown to initial criticality, synchronize the unit to the electric grid and systematically raise power to 100%. Southern Nuclear will operate the new unit.

The fuel load process marks a milestone toward startup and commercial operation. Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, representing 2,200 MW, are the first to be built in the U.S. in more than three decades. 

Reaching the milestone hasn’t been easy: Cost overruns and construction problems have delayed the project. Project partners have disputed over rising construction costs and their stake in the venture. Vogtle Unit 3 is currently expected to come online by the end of the first quarter of 2023, and Unit 4 is expected at the end of 2023.

Oglethorpe Power gave a more specific target operation date of March 2023, pending the results from testing.

“We are one step closer to bringing Unit 3 online to deliver emission-free, reliable baseload energy… for the next 60 to 80 years,” said Oglethorpe Power President and CEO Michael Smith. 

In August, The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) authorized Southern Nuclear to begin fuel loading at Vogtle Unit 3.

The unit is the first reactor to reach this stage under the NRC’s combined license process. The decision moved the 1,117 MW AP1000 generating unit out of NRC construction monitoring and into the regulatory body’s operating reactor oversight process.

In July 2022, Southern Nuclear told the NRC that it had completed all inspections, tests, analyses and acceptance criteria needed to show Vogtle Unit 3 is ready for operation.

The milestone came with the receipt of the NRC’s so-called 103(g) finding, which signified that the new unit has been constructed and will be operated in conformance with the Combined License and NRC regulations.

During fuel load, technicians and operators from Westinghouse and Southern Nuclear are scheduled to transfer 157 fuel assemblies one-by-one from the Unit 3 spent fuel pool to the unit’s reactor core.

Plant Vogtle is located near Waynesboro in eastern Georgia near the South Carolina border and is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

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