BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Sept. 28, 2023 – On Aug. 1, Vogtle Unit 2 received first-of-a-kind approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to be the first U.S. commercial reactor authorized to use advanced fuel, or Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF), exceeding 5% enrichment of uranium-235. With enrichments up to 6 wt.% uranium-235, this milestone underscores the industry’s effort to optimize fuel, enabling increased fuel efficiency and long-term affordability for nuclear power plants.
“Nuclear power accounts for nearly half of our country’s clean energy, and Southern Nuclear is committed to pushing for innovative, game-changing technologies like the deployment of Accident Tolerant Fuel that will advance performance and further support our ability to strengthen grid reliability with 24/7 generation,” said Southern Nuclear President Pete Sena. “Realizing the significant role nuclear power plays in our country’s energy infrastructure, I especially want to recognize the NRC’s thorough yet timely review of this installation to support the future of commercial nuclear power in our country.”
In 2022, Southern Nuclear signed an agreement with Westinghouse to load four lead test assemblies (LTAs) with next-generation fuel features into Unit 2 of Plant Vogtle that use key components from Westinghouse’s High Energy Fuel initiative and the EnCore® Fuel program. These features include ADOPTTM uranium dioxide pellets, AXIOMTM fuel rod cladding and chromium-coated cladding combined with Westinghouse’s advanced PRIMETM fuel assembly design. With regulatory authorization in hand, Southern Nuclear and Westinghouse are moving forward with the manufacturing of these first-of-a-kind fuel assemblies with planned installation in early 2025.
“Members of Congress and the Department of Energy have demonstrated their deep understanding of the positive impacts of Accident Tolerant Fuel, and their support has been critical to our ability to advance fuel technology with higher burnup rates,” said Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel. “We are grateful to Southern Nuclear for their trust and look forward to delivering advanced technologies that will bolster the light water fleet and support the low-cost generation of nuclear power in the long term.”
The authorization of enrichments greater than 5 wt.% uranium-235 is one tenet of the broader efforts by industry to develop and deploy batch quantities of advanced fuel technologies, or ATF, which are a set of new technologies that enable higher enrichment and have the potential to enhance safety at U.S. nuclear power plants by offering better performance during normal operation, transient conditions and accident scenarios.
The enrichment authorization is a component of a broader LTA program that will demonstrate performance of advanced fuel assemblies developed by Westinghouse with significant support from the U.S. Department of Energy’s enhanced ATF program.
Southern Nuclear is a recognized leader within the commercial nuclear industry in incremental deployment of enhanced ATF technology, having been the first in the world to install GE-Hitachi ATF fuel cladding technologies in 2018 at Plant Hatch Unit 1 with samples subsequently discharged and shipped to Oak Ridge National Lab for further testing in 2020. At Vogtle Unit 2 in 2019, Southern Nuclear installed four Framatome-developed GAIA lead fuel assemblies containing enhanced accident-tolerant features applied to full-length fuel rods.
Along with the Department of Energy, fuel suppliers and peer utilities, Southern Nuclear is executing a coordinated, overarching, multi-year effort through the Nuclear Energy Institute’s ATF Working Group to expand the regulatory paradigm to meet the industry goal of safely and economically enabling 24-month cycle operations for all operating plants with enhanced ATF features.
For more than 40 years, Southern Nuclear has operated nuclear energy facilities safely and reliably, creating carbon-free electricity for millions of homes and businesses. Southern Nuclear operates a total of seven units for Alabama Power and Georgia Power. The company recently achieved commercial operation on Vogtle Unit 3 and is the current licensee of Vogtle Unit 4, which is undergoing pre-startup testing prior to commercial operation. Both units represent historic achievements for the nuclear industry as the first new nuclear units to reach commercial operation and be built in the United States in the last three decades.
Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements
Certain information contained in this release is forward-looking information based on current expectations and plans that involve risks and uncertainties. Forward-looking information includes, among other things, statements concerning expected benefits of advanced fuel. Southern Nuclear cautions that there are certain factors that can cause actual results to differ materially from the forward-looking information that has been provided. The reader is cautioned not to put undue reliance on this forward-looking information, which is not a guarantee of future performance and is subject to a number of uncertainties and other factors, many of which are outside the control of Southern Nuclear; accordingly, there can be no assurance that such suggested results will be realized. The following factors, in addition to those discussed in Southern Company’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year that ended December 31, 2022 and subsequent securities filings, could cause actual results to differ materially from management expectations as suggested by such forward-looking information: the ability to successfully operate nuclear generating facilities and the inherent risks involved in operating nuclear generating facilities. Southern Nuclear expressly disclaims any obligation to update any forward-looking information.