Gov. Brian Kemp celebrated the completion of the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion Wednesday while acknowledging the obstacles that had to be overcome in building the first nuclear reactors in the U.S. since the 1980s.

The third of four reactors at the plant south of August went into commercial operation last July, while the fourth came online last month.

“Vogtle 3 and 4 don’t just represent an incredible economic development asset for the state and a milestone for the entire country,” Kemp said during a ceremony at the plant in Burke County. “They also stand as physical examples of something I remind myself every day: ‘Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.’

“The men and women here in front of me are tough people, their coworkers are tough people, their businesses are tough, and they’ve outlived the tough times that stood in the way of making today possible.”

Kemp paid tribute to the late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson for playing an instrumental role in building all four Vogtle reactors.

“It was Johnny who – when he was in the state House – worked to pass legislation enabling construction of Units 1 and 2,” the governor said. “And it was Johnny, as a powerful voice in the U.S. Senate, who championed and secured the production tax credits for Units 3 and 4.”

The “tough times” Georgia Power and its utility partners endured in making the Vogtle expansion a reality included seven years of delays that more than doubled the cost of the project from an original estimate of $14 billion to more than $30 billion.

The Georgia Public Service Commission voted late last year to let Georgia Power recover almost $7.6 billion of its share of those costs from ratepayers, while the company agreed to absorb about $2.6 billion. That’s expected to increase the average monthly residential customer’s bill by $8.97 for Unit 4, on top of a $5.42 rate hike that took effect when Unit 3 began operating.

Those inflated costs have prompted representatives of environmental and consumer advocacy groups to complain over the years of delays that Georgia Power should have more aggressively pursued renewable energy as a less costly alternative to the nuclear expansion.

“It is clear that Georgia Power is looking out for its own economic interests and not concerned about moving Georgia to a clean-energy economy, let alone protecting the health of Georgians who live in and around this nuclear power plant,” said Kim Scott, executive director of Atlanta-based nonprofit Georgia WAND.

On Wednesday, Kemp hinted that another expansion might be in Plant Vogtle’s future.

“In all my discussions with Georgia Power executives, I’ve shared our support for this effort and urged them to ‘Get this thing built,’ ” he said. “Today, we celebrate the end of that project. Now, let’s start planning for Vogtle 5!”

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