Vogtle 4 connects to the grid; NRC votes on Part 53

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Vogtle Units 3 & 4 (Source: Georgia Power Company)

Unit 4 at the Vogtle nuclear expansion project in the United States has synchronized and connected to the electric grid for the first time, Georgia Power said in a statement the beginning of March.

The announcement comes just two weeks after Unit 4 reached initial criticality, whereby a nuclear reaction is successfully started within the reactor.

Operators will steadily raise power in the reactor, performing tests as power increases, before reaching 100% and entering commercial operation, which Georgia Power says is expected during the second quarter of 2024.

Unit 4’s startup and connection to power grid follows Unit 3’s entrance into commercial operation July 31, 2023.

Cost and schedule overruns have plagued the construction of Unit 3 and Unit 4 at the Vogtle power plant, and the two reactors are arriving seven years later than originally planned and at a budget of more than double the preliminary projected cost at over $30 billion.

Vogtle 3 and 4 mark the first U.S. deployment of Westinghouse’s AP1000 Generation III+ reactors.

“The new Vogtle units are an essential part of Georgia Power’s commitment to delivering clean, safe, reliable, and affordable energy to its 2.7 million customers. When operating, each of the new units can produce enough electricity to power an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses,” Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, said.

The project is owned by Southern Co.'s Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corp. Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities.

NRC votes on Part 53

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has voted on the draft proposed rule for 10 CFR Part 53, a licensing framework that applies to the new generation of reactors, an important step in next-generation licensing.

The Commission approved, in part, the draft proposed rule that would amend regulations to establish a voluntary risk-informed, performance-based, and technologically inclusive regulatory framework for commercial nuclear plants, the NRC said.

“The Staff Requirements Memorandum (SRM) addresses many of the key concerns of stakeholders. In doing so, the Commission may have taken a draft rule that was unlikely to be used, and set it on a path to be a modern performance-based pathway for licensing new reactors,” The Breakthrough Institute wrote in an editorial following the vote.

The Breakthrough Institute has previously been critical of NRC work with next generation reactors, claiming the regulator simply cut-and-pastes previous generation licensing onto modern designs.

This “clear direction from the Commission will help clarify the intent of the draft proposed rule for 10 CFR Part 53 and realign NRC staff and external stakeholders as we continue the rulemaking process,” according to Nuclear Innovation Alliance (NIA) Research Director Patrick White.

“NIA believes that this vote by the Commission is an important step forward in creating a regulatory framework for advanced reactors than can provide both regulatory flexibility and predictability for advanced reactors and enables the commercialization and deployment of advanced nuclear energy,” White wrote in response to the vote.

UK company hails new welding method

A British company has completed a full-sized small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear vessel demonstrator assembly using Local Electron-Beam Welding (LEBW) in record time and claims the new method is a global leap in welding technology.

Sheffield Forgemasters, the only company in Britain with the capability to manufacture the large forgings required for SMRs, says it has pioneered the LEBW method which completed four, thick, nuclear-grade welds in less than 24 hours, a job which typically requires a year to complete.

“The implication of this technology within the nuclear industry is monumental, potentially taking high-cost welding processes out of the equation,” according to Senior Development Engineer and Project lead Michael Blackmore.

“Not only does this reduce the need for weld-inspections, because the weld-join replicates the parent material, but it could also dramatically speed up the roll-out of SMR reactors across the UK and beyond, that’s how disruptive the LEBW breakthrough is.”

Nuclear generation to hit records

Global nuclear electricity generation will exceed its previous 2021 record level in 2025 and will be almost 10% higher in 2026 compared to 2023, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its ‘Electricity 2024 – Analysis and Forecast to 2026’ study.

Between 2024 and 2026, an additional 29 GW of new nuclear capacity is expected to come online globally, with more than half of that capacity in India and China, and including French nuclear recovery and expected restarts in Japan, the IEA said.

“In 2022 and 2023 many countries placed the phasing in or expansion of nuclear power at the center of their strategies to reach climate policy objectives, sparking a significant revival of global interest in nuclear energy,” the IEA said.

Nuclear energy is expected to more than double by 2050, the IEA said as part of its updated Net Zero Roadmap.

The growth in nuclear power is so far mainly in Asia based on the number of nuclear plants currently under construction and new ones being planned, the agency noted.

As of November 2023, 68 GW of nuclear capacity was under construction, a further 109 GW planned, and 353 GW proposed, the World Nuclear Association estimates.

Over 20 countries signed a joint declaration at the environmental conference COP28 to triple nuclear power capacity, currently at 370 GW, by 2050.

By Reuters Events Nuclear