Southern Company (NYSE:SO) subsidiary Georgia Power received permission on Thursday (December 21) to complete the US’ first new nuclear units in 30 years.
According to a press release, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) has given the company unanimous approval to finish work on Vogtle 3 and 4, which are located near Waynesboro.
The reactors are co-owned by Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities. Unit 3 is expected to come online in November 2021, with Unit 4 following in November 2022. They are the only nuclear units under construction in the US, and are expected to power about 500,000 homes and businesses.
“The decision to complete Vogtle 3 & 4 is important for Georgia’s energy future and the United States,” said Paul Bowers, Georgia Power’s chairman, president and CEO. He added, “the Vogtle expansion is key to ensuring that our state has affordable and reliable energy today that will support economic growth now and for generations to come.”
US advocates of nuclear power agree — according to the New York Times, many view the Georgia PSC’s green light for Vogtle 3 and 4 as a “lifeline for the nuclear industry.” While nuclear energy provides one-fifth of the country’s electricity, reactor building has stagnated in recent decades, “in part because of soaring construction costs and competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.”
But not everyone is convinced moving forward with the nuclear units is a good idea. Georgia Power received approval to build the reactors back in 2009, and since then has faced numerous hurdles. Originally scheduled to come online in 2016 and 2017, the reactors were delayed by construction problems, and by this year’s bankruptcy of lead contractor Westinghouse. Costs have ballooned from $14 billion to potentially over $23 billion.
“As the last new nuclear power plant … this should be a lesson: these nuclear facilities cannot be built on time nor on budget,” said Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Other critics have pointed out that ordinary people will pay some of the price for Georgia Power’s delays. “There are practical ways in which ratepayers were hurt as a result of the Company’s errors. The Company cannot meet its burden that it is reasonable to recover these costs from ratepayers,” says a report filed earlier this week by Georgia PSC staff. The staff are separate from the commissioners who approved completion of the project.
The construction of Vogtle 3 and 4 comes at a time when the uranium industry is enjoying renewed hope. Recent production cuts from major miners Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ) and Kazatomprom have ignited optimism in the sector, with many market watchers calling for price increases. Optimism has also been stoked in the US by President Donald Trump’s positivity about nuclear energy.
Learn more about what could be coming in 2018 by reading our uranium outlook here.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.