The Vogtle-3 nuclear power station in the US state of Georgia has achieved first criticality, a major landmark towards reaching commercial operation at the first new nuclear reactor built from scratch in decades in the US.
First criticality is 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.
First criticality takes place when atoms are being split and nuclear heat is being made and is a major landmark in a new nuclear power plant
The company has said it remains focused on safely bringing the 1,117-MW pressurised water reactor (PWR) unit online, fully addressing any issues and getting it right at every level.
Georgia Power is the lead owner of the Vogtle project, for which Westinghouse has provided two Generation III+ AP1000 units. Construction of Vogtle-3 began in March 2013 and of identical unit Vogtle-4 in November 2013. They are the first units of their kind being built in the US. Fuel loading at Vogtle-3 took place in October 2022 when Georgia Power said the unit was expected to enter service in the first quarter of 2023.
The initial date for start of operation of Vorgle-3 was 2016, but the project has been delayed several times due to various issues.
Georgia Power has indicated that its share of the costs will rise by an additional $200m. In all, according to Southern Co, Georgia Power's Atlanta-based parent, the total cost of the project will cost over $30bn from the original estimate of $14bn.
Georgia Power said Unit 3 would continue startup testing to show that its cooling system and steam supply system will work at the intense heat and pressure that a nuclear reactor creates. After that, operators will connect the plant to the electrical grid and gradually raise it to full power.
A statement by Westinghouse said the company is "honored to share this incredible moment with Southern Nuclear, Georgia Power, and the project’s co-owners, and with the entire team at Vogtle.”
Westinghouse considers this an incredible moment for the company and the project co-owners
Westinghouse also noted that four AP1000 units currently operating in China “are currently setting operational performance records.” Four additional AP1000 reactors are under construction in China, and two more are planned.
“Poland recently selected the AP1000 reactor for its nuclear energy programme, nine units have been announced for Ukraine, and the technology is under consideration at multiple other sites in Central and Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, and in the United States,” Westinghouse said.
AP1000 reactor technology is under construction in China and Poland, and under consideration in other sites in Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States