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Vogtle’s nuclear reactors expected to start up soon
McDonald of Georgia’s Public Service Commission speaks at Chamber of Commerce lunch
public service commission
Public Service Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, left, shares a laugh with Clay Sikes and Rep. Al Williams. Photo by Pat Donahue

The nation’s two newest nuclear reactors are expected to be up and running in the near future, a member of Georgia’s Public Service Commission said.

Lauren “Bubba” Mc-Donald also called units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle, just outside of Waynesboro, the biggest economic development project in state history.

“Once it’s finished, it’s going to be close to $25 billion,” McDonald said of the investment to a recent Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Progress Through People luncheon. “These plants are going to be serving Georgia for 100 years. It’s carbon free. It’s going to make a big difference.”

McDonald added the project has brought as many as 6,000-7,000 workers to Burke County over the last few years.

The Plant Vogtle expansion has been fraught with overruns and delays. The original contractor, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy, setting construction back. More concerns over safety arose after the Fukushima plant incident in Japan.

But McDonald pointed out the design for Vogtle’s two new units is much safer.

“It’s coming along nicely,” he said. “The big problem is finding the craft labor to do it.”

Unit 3 fueling began a few weeks ago, and that unit is expected to begin operations in early 2023, likely in February. Unit 4 will be about six to seven months behind that, Mc-Donald said.

The four units at Vogtle are expected to provide enough energy to power more than 1 million homes in Georgia, according to Georgia Power. Each unit can deliver as much as 1,200 megawatts of power.

“The cost is tough,” McDonald said, “but the benefits are going to be great.”

The two existing units are running at more than 99.5% efficiency, Mc-Donald said.

Units 3 and 4, originally expected to be operating in 2016 and 2017, are the first two commercial nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in more than three decades. McDonald noted the two new units have 50% fewer valves, 35% fewer pumps, 85% less pipe and require 45% less building space than previous reactors.

“It’s amazing for this country boy to go into a nuclear plant and see exactly what is taking place,” McDonald said, “amazing what we Americans can do when we set our minds to it.”

McDonald attended a nuclear energy symposium in China, attended by representatives of 26 countries, and he said the biggest thing about building nuclear reactors is having tough skin.

“It’s tough politically to do a nuclear plant,” he said. “If we don’t finish this one, there won’t be another one built in the U.S. It’s the politics. I’m committed to seeing these plants finished.”

Nuclear energy, Mc-Donald said, is clean, affordable and reliable, and Georgia’s diversity of energy production is what helps make the state attractive to businesses and industries.

Prospective industries look at transportation, education and the costs and reliability of energy, he said.

“And that’s where Georgia shines,” Mc-Donald pointed out. “We shine because we have the diversification of our energy programs, with coal, natural gas, solar programs, that we started in 2013 and now we’re sixth in the nation in solar development. And fortunately, Georgia is an area of the country where we have great electrons from the sun.”

As solar power expands in Georgia, Mc-Donald said the key is transmission of the energy it provides.

“It’s no good unless you can deliver it somewhere,” he said. “So you’ve got to connect to the transmission system.” Georgia’s military bases have invested in solar, and facilities at Fort Stewart, Fort Benning, and Kings Bay Naval Base are producing 30 megawatts of power. Should another Base Realignment and Closure commission take place, those solar facilities may help keep those bases intact, McDonald said.

He also issued a warning that energy prices are about to go up, especially when it comes to natural gas. Five years ago, natural gas was less than $3 a dekatherm. It’s closing in on $6 a dekatherm now.

“We’re losing our energy independence in this nation,” McDonald said, “and it’s very tragic because all of us feel it in our pocketbooks. Your natural gas prices are going to hit it. It’s the economic policy we are working under in Washington, D.C., right now. I hate it because it’s painful.”

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