First U.S. Nuclear Plant in 20 Years Comes Online

It has been a significant week for the U.S. nuclear industry.

Georgia Power announced on Wednesday that the nearly 6,000 construction workers involved in the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have racked up more than 25 million safe work hours since December 2014. That means in nearly two years, there has not been a single lost-time accident on the work site, an impressive feat for any construction project. In an industry faced with intense safety scrutiny, this achievement is an auspicious step in the continued smooth trajectory of the project.

Exemplifying the impressive progress at the Vogtle site, Georgia Power published the below video to its YouTube page in September, exemplifying six years of construction in two minutes.

Georgia Power is not the only American utility with a significant announcement in the field of nuclear energy, however. Also on Wednesday, Tennessee Valley Authority announced that the long-awaited Watts Bar 2 came online. The project began in 1973; this is a day 43 years in the making.

Its sister unit, Watts Bar 1, came online in 1996 after its own series of setbacks, and was the last nuclear reactor to do so in the United States. Wednesday’s announcement makes Watts Bar 2 the first new operational reactor in 20 years. Between its initial project launch and now, the U.S. nuclear industry has been tumultuous, enduring political fallout from Three Mile Island, then reviving when President Bush hearkened the “nuclear renaissance,” before falling in favor again in the wake of Fukushima. Ultimately, TVA was able to power through and complete this project, though decades behind schedule and billions of dollars over initial budget. TVA noted, however, that the project ultimately came in on the revised budget.

Overcoming issues as recently as August, when a transformer fire caused an unplanned shutdown, Watts Bar ramped up to produce 100% of its rated power at the end of September, paving the way for the commercial achievement this week. It may have been a rocky path, but this is a significant achievement for the U.S. nuclear industry and the future of nuclear power.