First New Nuclear Reactor in 3 Decades Goes Online in Georgia

Aug 2, 2023

US Nuclear Power Capacity Additions

The nuclear power industry in the US had a rebirth this week. The first nuclear reactor to be built from scratch in more than three decades went online in Georgia. But it's not yet clear if nuclear power is ready to make a full comeback. 

Georgia Power officials announced that Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle is up and running. The new tower at the plant can create 1,100 megawatts at full output. That's enough to power half a million businesses and homes.  

But building it took seven years longer than planned. It also cost $17 billion over budget. That's more than twice the original estimate. Those two factors raise questions about whether future projects will be worth it.

Decades ago, nuclear power was a fast growing industry. But high construction costs and public opposition ended that growth. Two high-profile nuclear accidents sparked public backlash. One happened at Three Mile Island in 1979. That's in Pennsylvania. The other happened in Cherobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. The Chernobyl meltdown is the biggest disaster in the industry’s history. It killed dozens of people. The city is still uninhabitable. And the radioactive fallout also contaminated forests, farmland, and livestock.   

The public is more open to nuclear power today. The climate crisis is a major reason for that. Power from nuclear fission does not produce greenhouse gases. Those cause global warming. People in favor of nuclear power also say it doesn’t have the wide swings in cost that come with fuels such as gas and coal.  

While a fourth reactor is set to go online at Plant Vogtle in March, Southern Company doesn’t plan to build more after that. 

“Others in this country should move in that direction,” Southern Company’s CEO told The Associated Press.

At the moment, no others are being built.

Reflect: What do you think about using nuclear power to create electricity? Why might some people support it, and others not?

Based on the information in the infographic, when was the nuclear power industry experiencing the most growth in the US? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Between 1970 and 1990
b. Between 1990 and 2005
c. Between 2025 and 2020
d. After 2020
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