Bechtel In, Fluor Out as Vogtle Construction Continues

Georgia Power’s plan to continue construction of its Vogtle nuclear expansion project comes with changes among the contractors, with Bechtel taking over the lead and Fluor Corp., which has long served as a subcontractor, on its way out.

Both companies bid to take over construction after Westinghouse Electric, the designer and principal contractor for the two AP1000 reactors being built at the plant near Augusta, Georgia, filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year in the wake of multibillion-dollar losses due to cost overruns at Vogtle. Georgia Power, a Southern Co. subsidiary, and the other project owners on August 31 filed a recommendation with the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC) to continue building the project.

Bechtel, headquartered in San Francisco, California, is a global engineering, procurement, construction, and project company. The company will take over day-to-day construction of Plant Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4 under the direction of Southern Nuclear, a Southern Co. subsidiary. Southern Nuclear currently operates Units 1 and 2 at Vogtle.

“We look forward to moving ahead with the great relationships we’ve built with plant leadership and the skilled tradespeople at the site,” Ty Troutman, Bechtel’s project manager, said in a statement August 31. “We’ve accomplished a lot already and we have a plan in place to deliver.”

Georgia Power said it chose Bechtel to lead construction moving forward based on the company’s past work on the project. In its filing with regulators, Georgia Power noted “Bechtel brings to the Project a well-qualified, talented team with strong leadership and senior-level engagement.” The filing said Bechtel performed an independent study in support of its bid for the construction contract, taking on the “arduous task of reviewing Westinghouse’s subcontracts to determine which subcontracts should be retained and which should be renegotiated or terminated when it took over construction of the Project.”

Paul Bowers, chairman, president and CEO of Georgia Power, on Thursday said the Vogtle project has accelerated in recent weeks under new leadership.

“We have seen a marked increase in productivity throughout this year, with the best improvement being the most recent improvement, and our experience provides every indication that we can do a better job than Westinghouse alone as we move forward to complete the project,” said Bowers in a statement. “Since Southern Nuclear assumed control of the site from Westinghouse at the end of July, momentum has accelerated with a consistent focus on safe, high-quality construction. We expect this trend to continue with Bechtel.”

Fluor on Thursday gave a statement to POWER, saying it was “disappointed in Southern Company’s decision to move forward with another construction company for the nuclear power units at Plant Vogtle. We will work with Southern Company to support an orderly project transition.”

Fluor had transitioned to construction contractor at Vogtle in early 2016 after CB&I’s nuclear construction business was purchased by Westinghouse Electric in late 2015. Westinghouse also secured an agreement with Fluor, putting Fluor in charge of managing construction at both Vogtle and the long-delayed V.C. Summer nuclear project in South Carolina.

Bechtel has experience with nuclear projects. The company is known for leading efforts to complete the design of Yucca Mountain, the Nevada site used to hold spent fuel from U.S. nuclear power plants. The company says it has worked on more than 150 nuclear power plant projects worldwide, including the Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee, the last reactor to come online in the U.S., and which returned to service August 1 after being offline for more than four months to repair a ruptured condenser. It also is working as part of a joint venture to complete front-end engineering and design for a new nuclear facility in Wales, UK.

“[Vogtle] is a critically important project for the nation and we’re honored to be chosen,” Barbara Rusinko, president of Bechtel’s government services and commercial nuclear power business, said in a statement. “We are committed to the long-term future of nuclear power as a safe and reliable, 24/7 provider of carbon-free electricity.”

Georgia Power on Thursday said it expects Vogtle Unit 3 to enter commercial operation in November 2021, with Unit 4 coming online in November 2022.

Several construction milestones for the project have been reached in August. On August 15, the 1.4 million-pound steam generator was placed into the Unit 3 nuclear island. Each AP1000 unit at Vogtle requires two steam generators, and all four are now on-site.

The Unit 4 pressurizer compartment, which was assembled on-site and weighs 120 tons, was installed on August 18. The second of four accumulator tanks, which hold borated water inside the containment vessel within the nuclear island and would provide coolant in the event of a loss of reactor coolant, was placed on August 19. Each unit will have two accumulator tanks weighing about 85,000 pounds each, and all four—fabricated in and shipped from Italy—are on-site.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)