America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations

Monday marked a significant milestone for the United States as the country's first new nuclear reactor in almost seven years commenced delivering power to the electric grid. The unit 3 reactor at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia, is now in commercial operation after successful preliminary tests in March.

The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor is generating approximately 1,110 megawatts of energy, capable of powering around 500,000 homes and businesses, according to Georgia Power, the primary owner of the plant. This reactor's activation represents the first new nuclear reactor contributing to the US power grid since October 2016.

The nuclear industry hails this achievement as a significant step towards clean and reliable energy solutions. Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry advocacy group, stated that this Westinghouse AP1000 advanced reactor is shaping the future energy landscape.

However, building such reactors is an extensive and complex undertaking. Construction on Vogtle units 3 and 4 began in 2009, and the project faced delays and cost overruns. Initially estimated at $14 billion, the costs have soared to $30 billion so far, according to energy scholars at Columbia University. Despite these challenges, the successful operation of the Vogtle unit 3 reactor marks an important achievement for the nuclear energy industry.

Nuclear energy has seen increased interest in recent years as the world responds to climate change and seeks cleaner energy sources. The US Department of Energy reports that nuclear energy contributed 47% of America's carbon-free electricity in 2022. The Vogtle Plant's unit 4 is expected to go into service in late 2023 or early 2024.

The construction of new nuclear reactors like Vogtle units 3 and 4 signals a revitalization for the nuclear industry, which faced a downturn after the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in 1979.

With the demand for clean energy growing, nuclear energy's role in the US energy landscape is gaining significance once again.

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