Jointly owned power plant in final steps before going into operation

Georgia will soon have an additional 1,215 megawatts in electrical capacity available because of a corporate partnership that includes Oglethorpe Power Corporation, headquartered in Tucker.

Owners and the manufacturer of Vogtle nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia, announced March 3 that Vogtle Unit 3 has safely reached initial criticality, “a key step during the startup testing sequence and demonstrates that—for the first time—operators have safely started the nuclear reaction inside the reactor. This means atoms are being split and nuclear heat is being made, which will be used to produce steam,” according to an announcement from Georgia Power Co., which owns 45.7 percent of plant.

“A reactor achieves criticality when the nuclear fission reaction becomes self-sustaining. Achieving initial criticality is necessary to continue the startup of the Unit in order to generate sufficient heat for the production of electricity,” the announcement states.

Westinghouse, manufacturer of the reactor, called initial criticality, “a milestone for Southern Nuclear [operator of the plant], Georgia Power and other project partners.”

“Other project partners” includes Oglethorpe Power Corporation, owner of 30 percent of the plant and its second-largest investor.

Oglethorpe is described on its website as “among the nation’s largest power supply cooperatives and one of the primary energy producers in Georgia, generating power for 38 electric membership cooperatives and the approximately 4.4 million people they serve.” The company states that it has $16 billion in assets.

Electric membership cooperatives came into being after the establishment of the federal Rural Electrification Administration in 1936, the Oglethorpe website continues. Prior to establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, small towns in Georgia and many other states depended on local electric companies for power when it was available. The situation came to the attention of Franklin Roosevelt when he visited Warm Springs, Georgia, for health treatments. After he become president, Roosevelt advocated for creation of the agency,

In 1974, Georgia’s electric memberships joined forces initially as Oglethorpe Electric Membership Cooperative, later renamed Oglethorpe Power Corporation. “For the first time in Georgia, generating facilities and transmission lines were part of the cooperative model, improving reliability and helping keep costs stable,” the company’s website states. Oglethorpe Power Corporation has no retail customers.

The plant is one of several Oglethorpe owns jointly with Georgia Power and other partners. It is part of what the company describes as “a diverse mix that includes nuclear, natural gas, coal and hydroelectric resources.”

Plant Vogtle is named for the late Alvin W. Vogtle, a former president of the Southern Company. Vogtle is also known as a World War II hero, whose exploits are chronicled in The Great Escape, a book written by a fellow POW. In a 1963 movie based on the book, Steve McQueen played the character inspired by Vogtle.

Units 3 and 4 of Vogtle have been under construction since 2009. The first unit was commissioned in 1987. “When you consider the history of safe and reliable operations at Vogtle Units 1 and 2 for decades now, it puts today’s milestone in perspective that Plant Vogtle will be a four-unit site making it the largest of its kind in the U.S. This is a truly exciting time as we prepare to bring online a new nuclear unit that will serve our state with clean and emission-free energy for the next 60 to 80 years,” Chris Womack, chairman, president, and CEO of Georgia Power, said in the announcement.

Startup testing of unit 3, which “demonstrates the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system at design temperature and pressure with fuel inside the reactor,” is scheduled to continue. “Now that the Unit 3 reactor has reached criticality, operators will continue to raise power to support synchronizing the generator to the electric grid and begin producing electricity,” the announcement states. “Then, operators will continue increasing power through multiple steps, ultimately raising power to 100 percent. These tests are designed to ensure all systems are operating together and to validate operating procedures prior to declaration of commercial operation. The in-service date for Unit 3 is projected during May or June 2023.”

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