Georgia Power has received the first nuclear fuel shipment for Vogtle Unit 3, representing the first nuclear fuel shipment for this newly-designed AP1000 reactor in the U.S. The milestone marks a major step for the Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion project towards operations and providing customers with a carbon-free energy source that is expected to put downward pressure on rates for decades to come.
“Since the start, the Vogtle expansion project has been an investment in our energy future. Today, as we receive our first nuclear fuel shipment, we remain committed to realizing the benefits this project will provide not only to our customers, but also our state and our country,” said Paul Bowers, chairman and CEO of Georgia Power. “Achieving this historic milestone brings us closer to fuel load expected in April 2021, and, once online, these new nuclear units will provide clean, carbon-free energy for the next 60 to 80 years.”
In order to receive nuclear fuel, construction of specific areas of Unit 3 had to be completed and inspected, ensuring critical infrastructure, such as the fuel vault and spent fuel pool, meet construction quality and design requirements. With site construction turning over the fuel handling area of Vogtle Unit 3 to operations, the Vogtle 3 & 4 site implemented specific and comprehensive policies, procedures and security measures to safely receive, handle and store the nuclear fuel.
With the receipt of the first nuclear fuel assemblies, the Vogtle 3 & 4 project remains focused on one of the last major milestones ahead for Unit 3, hot functional testing. This series of tests is the last critical step before fuel load and ultimately in-service operation.
Carbon-free energy source
The new Vogtle units are an essential part of Georgia Power’s commitment to deliver safe, clean, reliable and affordable energy for customers and play a significant role in supporting Southern Company’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Once operating, the two new units at Plant Vogtle will be able to power more than 500,000 homes and businesses. A diverse fuel mix, including nuclear, is also essential to maintaining a reliable and affordable energy infrastructure that attracts new investment, supports economic growth and creates jobs.
Nuclear fuel process
One nuclear fuel pellet, roughly the size of a pencil eraser, provides as much energy as one ton of coal or nearly 150 gallons of oil. The nuclear fuel pellets are enclosed in nuclear fuel rods, which are then part of nuclear fuel assemblies. Consisting of 157 fuel assemblies with each measuring 14 feet tall, the fuel will be loaded into the reactor vessel to support startup once the reactor begins operating. After the initial fueling, approximately one third of the total fuel assemblies will be replaced during each refueling outage after the units begin operating, similar to the process used at existing Vogtle Units 1 & 2.
Earlier this year, the Vogtle 3 & 4 project team successfully completed the pre-startup review process conducted by the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which assessed the Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear expansion project’s readiness to operate the new AP1000 reactors with safety and quality as the primary focus.
2020 Milestones Achieved
- Completion of Cold Hydro Testing for Unit 3 – Confirmed the reactor’s coolant system functions as designed and verified the welds, joints, pipes and other components of the coolant system and associated high-pressure systems do not leak when under pressure.
- Emergency Preparedness Drill – Vogtle 3 & 4 completed a required emergency preparedness exercise for a simulated emergency event for Vogtle Unit 3. Teams participated in the simulation and demonstrated their ability to effectively and efficiently respond and protect the health and safety of the public.
- Vogtle 3 & 4 Operators Receive Licenses – The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued the first operator licenses to 62 Reactor and Senior Reactor Operators for Vogtle 3 & 4. To receive a nuclear operator license from the NRC, license holders must demonstrate they possess the required knowledge, skills and abilities to safely and effectively operate the plant.
- Completion of Closed Vessel Testing – The completion of this milestone prepared Unit 3 for cold hydro testing. Closed vessel testing verified the pipes and valves in the Unit 3 reactor coolant system were installed as designed and helped ensure safety systems function properly.
- Completion of the Structural Integrity Test and Integrated Leak Rate Test – Both tests were completed in succession and demonstrated the Unit 3 containment vessel meets construction quality and design requirements.
- Placement of the final module for Unit 3 – The water tank that sits atop the containment vessel and shield building roof, known as module CB-20, is a major part of the AP1000 reactor’s advanced safety system and will hold approximately 750,000 gallons of water ready to flow down in the unlikely event of an emergency to help cool the reactor.
- Placement of the Unit 3 integrated head package (IHP) atop the reactor vessel – Standing 48 feet tall, weighing 475,000 pounds and containing more than three miles of electrical cables, the IHP will eventually be used by highly-trained nuclear operators to monitor and control the nuclear reaction that will occur inside the Unit 3 reactor vessel.
- Completion of Open Vessel Testing for Unit 3 – This successfully demonstrated how water flows from the key safety systems into the reactor vessel ensuring the paths are not blocked or constricted, and confirmed the pumps, motors, valves, pipes and other components of the systems function as designed.
- Placement of the polar crane and containment vessel top for Unit 4 – This signified that all major lifts inside the containment vessels for both units are complete.
With more than 7,000 workers on site, and more than 800 permanent jobs available once the units begin operating, Vogtle 3 & 4 is currently the largest jobs-producing construction project in the state of Georgia.