$30B Bechtel-built nuclear plant starts operation in Georgia

Vogtle Unit 3, a commercial nuclear reactor built by Bechtel and managed by utility provider Southern Co.’s subsidiary Georgia Power, has begun commercial operations and is now providing power to customers in Georgia, according to the contractor

The Reston, Virginia-based contractor was brought onto the project in 2017, according to Bechtel’s project website. Bechtel worked on Units 3 and 4 on the complex, which is located near Waynesboro, Georgia, south of Augusta. The project has an estimated cost of more than $30 billion, per the Associated Press.

While Unit 3 is complete, the final stages of construction and testing continue at Vogtle Unit 4, according to Southern Co. The unit is projected to be in service during the late fourth quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2024. 

During construction, Bechtel partnered with North America’s Building Trades Unions to build the two units, according to the contractor. At peak, Bechtel and NABTU had a combined 9,000 workers on site.

Completion was anything but smooth — throughout the lifecycle of the project, Bechtel and Georgia Power had to deal with various issues like tech and operational problems, ballooning costs and delays. The first unit was supposed to be operational in 2016.

Additional problems came prior to Bechtel’s addition as the contractor. One of the original builders on the job, Houston-based Chicago Bridge & Iron, made a public exit from the project in 2015 following a three-year, $1.2 billion lawsuit over the cost overruns and delays, per The Georgia Watch

That made Westinghouse the sole contractor on the job at that point, but the firm went bankrupt in 2017, when Bechtel took over. The original cost of the plant, according to a 2013 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, was $14 billion, $16 billion below its current estimated price tag.

Nuclear power

Vogtle Unit 3 is the first newly-constructed nuclear unit in the U.S. in over 30 years and can power an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses. Once all four units are online, the site will be the largest generator of clean energy in the nation, Southern Co. claims.

“Today’s start of commercial operations for Vogtle Unit 3 gives the Southeast a major new source of clean, reliable, carbon-free baseload energy,” said Brendan Bechtel, chairman and CEO of Bechtel, in the contractor’s press release. “And, as the first new nuclear unit built in the U.S. in more than 30 years, it helps put America back on the map as a leader in the global nuclear industry.” 

Bechtel has completed more than 76,000 megawatts of new nuclear generation capacity, according to the contractor’s press release. It also designed, built or performed engineering and construction services on more than 80% of nuclear plants in the United States.

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