US-based nuclear energy facility operator Southern Nuclear has secured the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) authorisation to start up the Vogtle Unit 3 nuclear facility.

Vogtle Unit 3 has been constructed adjacent to the currently operating Units 1 and 2 of the Plant Vogtle, in Burke County, near Waynesboro, Georgia.

Together with Unit 4, which is currently under construction, the two new units are being developed as clean energy sources to reduce air pollution.

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant is jointly owned by Georgia Power with a 45.7% stake, Oglethorpe with a 30% interest, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia with a 22.7% stake and Dalton with 1.6% ownership.

NRC is an independent agency of the US government that works for protecting public health and safety related to nuclear energy.

The agency has completed the review and issued a combined license for both Vogtle Unit 3 and Unit 4.

Southern Nuclear said that Vogtle Unit 3 is the first nuclear reactor to reach NRC’s combined license process.

NRC office of nuclear reactor regulation director Andrea Veil said: “This is the first time we’ve authorised a reactor’s initial startup through our Part 52 licensing process.

“Before authorisation, we independently verified that Vogtle Unit 3 has been properly built and will protect public health and safety when it transitions to operation.

“Our resident inspectors at Vogtle will keep a close eye on Unit 3 as the fuel load and startup testing move forward. We’re focused on safety so the country can use Vogtle’s additional carbon-free electricity.”

Southern Nuclear has recently completed the inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria, and informed the agency that the facility can start safe operations.

Georgia Power said that its team will continue working at the Unit 3 site to make final preparations for the fuel loading, initiate start-up testing and bring the unit online.

The well-trained and qualified nuclear technicians will continue over the next several weeks to help load the fuel into the unit’s reactor, which is already onsite.

The start-up testing will validate the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system with fuel inside the reactor.

It will be brought from cold shutdown to initial criticality and is synchronised to the grid and systematically raise power to 100%, said Georgia Power.

Georgia Power chairman, president and CEO Chris Womack said: “Today’s finding by the NRC helps ensure we have met our commitment to building Vogtle 3 & 4 with the highest safety and quality standards.

“These new units remain a strong long-term investment for this state, and, once operating, are expected to provide customers with a reliable and resilient, clean, emission-free source of energy for the next 60 to 80 years.

“That’s why we’ve been so committed to getting this project done right – it’s about serving our customers today and for decades to come.”