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Southern Co. (SO) Nuclear Plant Achieves Initial Criticality

U.S.-based, The Southern Company SO has announced that Unit 4 at its Vogtle Nuclear plant has reached initial criticality. This is a crucial step in the start-up testing sequence. The company also mentioned that the initial criticality stage has been reached safely, which means operators have started the nuclear reaction inside the reactor for the first time. The nuclear fuel in the reactor will split the atoms and generate heat, which will be used to produce steam later.

Following this achievement, Vogtle Unit 4 has continued startup testing. The tests are meant to show the integrated operation of the primary coolant system and steam supply system under conditions of design temperature and pressure with fuel inside the reactor. These tests are performed before kicking off commercial operations, in order to validate operating procedures and verify the synergism of all systems.

However, the project has encountered delays and is running behind schedule. The budget has also been exceeded by billions.

As the Unit 4 reactor has reached initial criticality, the operators will gradually raise power to synchronize the generator with the electric grid and begin generating electricity. The power will be increased by the operators in multiple steps, ultimately raising it to 100%.


Unit 4 is one of the two-unit expansion projects being constructed near Waynesboro, GA, and the reactor is expected to come in during the second quarter of 2024. Initially, the projected in-service date for Vogtle 4 was around the end of 2023. However, that was revised after the discovery of a motor fault in the reactor coolant pump. Southern Company’s newest reactor in the United States, Unit 3, started commercial operation in July last year.

The company will operate these units on behalf of the co-owners — Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities.

Georgia Power, the largest electric subsidiary of SO, mentioned that the new Vogtle units are part of its overall commitment to deliver energy that is clean, safe, reliable and affordable for its customers. The new units will be able to generate a substantial amount of electricity, enough to power 500,000 homes and businesses.

Zacks Rank and Key Picks

Currently, SO carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

Investors might want to look at some better-ranked stocks from the same industry, such as Duke Energy Corporation DUK, Xcel Energy Inc. XEL and NiSource Inc. NI. Each stock presently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stocks here.

Duke Energy is one of the largest energy holding companies in America. It has put forward an increased $73 billion five-year capital plan for 2024. The capital plan will support DUK’s energy transition goals and the unparalleled growth within its jurisdictions. The company’s projected earnings growth of 5-7% through 2028 demonstrates its confidence in the strength of its regulated utilities and increasing capital profile.

Xcel Energy is a utility company in the United States that provides a comprehensive portfolio of energy-related products and services to millions of customers through its regulated operating companies. It expects to deliver enhanced shareholder return by combining earnings growth and dividend yield. XEL aims to deliver long-term annual EPS growth of 5-7% as well as annual dividend hikes of 5-7%, which underscore the company’s confidence in its future earnings potential and operational efficiency.

NiSource is one of the largest natural gas utility companies in the United States. It has a 100% regulated utility business model. The company’s growth strategy revolves around the modernization and replacement of its utility infrastructure alongside complementary system expansions. NiSource expects an annual rate base growth of 8-10% during 2023-2028, driven by its capital expenditures.

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Xcel Energy Inc. (XEL) : Free Stock Analysis Report

Southern Company (The) (SO) : Free Stock Analysis Report

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