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US Energy official uses Georgia visit to call for more nuclear power

The final fuel assembly is loaded into Plant Vogtle Unit 3 in October, 2022.
Georgia Power
The final fuel assembly is loaded into Plant Vogtle Unit 3 in October, 2022.

The nation’s top energy official used a trip to Georgia to call for a massive expansion of the country’s nuclear power capacity and a new look at how to fund that expansion.

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was in Waynesboro, about 40 miles south of Augusta, to mark the opening of two new nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle. While there, she called for a tripling of nuclear power across the US. Increasing demands from AI and data centers will drive the need for more power in coming years, she said.

"We need clean baseload power,: she said. "Nuclear is one of the solutions."

Baseload power is the minimum amount of power needed to fully supply the power grid.

The expansion of Plant Vogtle has drawn criticism from some energy and consumer advocates. The construction was plagued by setbacks, and when the plant was completed, it was seven years late and nearly $20 billion over budget.

Much of that cost overrun is being passed to electricity consumers across the state, according to a report from the Georgia Conservation Voters Education Fund, Georgia WAND, the Center for a Sustainable Coast, and others. That report contends that the power produced by the Vogtle expansion will be about four times more expensive than other power generation sources.

Granholm proposed passing on the costs of new nuclear power to the consumers who would most benefit, a departure from Georgia Power’s model.

"For example, if Microsoft or Amazon are looking for clean baseload power for their data centers, they should be the ones who pay for that and not have it rate-based across the full rate base, and we we shouldn't have everyday citizens paying for that if [Microsoft or Amazon] can afford it," Granholm said.

Also speaking to reporters on Friday, Georgia Power CEO Chris Womack said that his company wouldn’t be making any new investments in nuclear capacity “anytime soon.”

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.