Despite burdensome regulations, Georgia opens a new nuclear reactor

The construction of a new nuclear reactor in Georgia is only a matter of time. The Vogtle Unit 4 power plant began producing commercial power on April 29. This followed the opening of Unit 3 last summer.

These were the first new nuclear reactors since 2016 and the last new large reactors under construction in the United States.

All permits currently issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the construction of large reactors were issued before 2010. The chances of building any more large reactors are slim, at least in the foreseeable future, as none are currently under construction and no plans have been announced to build any in the next decade and a half.

Since no new large reactors are being built, the industry will have little opportunity to learn and improve the process due to financial and regulatory compliance issues associated with building Vogtle reactors. The main limitation in the nuclear industry is regulatory issues. Compliance goalposts often change during construction, leading to costly interruptions and last-minute changes.

The reactors were late and significantly over budget, with projected costs of $14 billion and actual costs of $35 billion. The project was also delayed for over seven years. However, the new units will also provide Georgia ratepayers with reliable electricity for 60-80 years.

With the newest reactor, Plant Vogtle will now be the largest nuclear power plant in the United States and the second largest power plant in the country at 4,800 megawatts (MW). It is the second dam in Washington state after the 7,079 MW Grand Coulee Dam. While not equivalent to Grand Coulee’s potential generating capacity, Plant Vogtle will likely exceed the dam’s actual production due to capacity factor.

The capacity factor is the percentage of time that a power plant generates its maximum power. Nuclear reactors have an incredibly high efficiency ratio – with a reliability of 92.5% all year round. For this reason, a nuclear power plant can often produce more energy in a given year than a plant with a much larger power rating. This is good for the electricity grid because you can rely on it constantly.

The Vogtle plant is expected to produce over 30 million MW hours of electricity annually and will be one of, if not the largest, power plant in the country.

There are certainly lessons to be learned from the development of both Vogtle reactors. The basic conclusion is that for new nuclear energy to be successful, a streamlined and coherent regulatory framework is essential. Nuclear reactors have incredible potential to benefit the electrical grid, and poor regulation is one of the main obstacles to the deployment of new reactors.

A version of this article first appeared on Independent Women’s Forum.