Plant Vogtle Moves Forward, as Do Costs and Schedules

At Plant Vogtle in Georgia, where Southern Co. subsidiary Southern Nuclear is building two new 1,100-MW AP1000 units for Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities, work on the first new nuclear units built in the U.S. in 30 years is progressing—albeit with hiccups.

4. Giant crane. Testing has begun on a 560-foot-tall heavy lift derrick that will be used to move large components at the Plant Vogtle expansion project, which will add two new AP1000 units in Georgia. The crane, one of the largest in the world, “has the capacity to move the equivalent of five 747 jets across the distance of more than three-and-a-half football fields in a single lift,” Georgia Power estimates. Courtesy: Southern Co.
The company says significant work has already been completed on turbine islands, cooling towers, and nuclear islands. Assembly and welding of Unit 3’s containment vessel bottom head is half-complete, ahead of schedule. Major components are expected to begin arriving at the site later this year and early in 2013—the first of which will be the reactor vessel for Unit 3. Testing has also begun on a 560-foot-tall heavy lift derrick (Figure 4) that will be used to move large pieces at the site and which is being billed as “one of the biggest cranes in the world.”

Yet, Georgia Power in late August pushed back anticipated start dates at the new units by several months—from April 2016 and April 2017 to November 2016 and November 2017 for Units 3 and 4 respectively. The company said in a semi-annual filing with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) that the April dates were not realistically achievable owing to delays in securing full regulatory approval of the design control document (DCD) for the plant.

After concluding work did not conform with the DCD, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in March this year halted work to install steel reinforcing rebar for the base mat of Unit 3’s nuclear island while it conducted investigations and processed license amendment requests. Approval for the license amendments is expected this October.

Southern Co.’s latest filing shows that total projected construction costs have increased to $6.2 billion, from $6.1 billion—an $87 million increase that still puts costs below the $6.4 billion budget approved by the PSC in 2009, officials argued. The expansion has been estimated to cost $14 billion in total.

But the project’s completion schedule and cost estimates could be further affected by an unresolved dispute with a contractor consortium that includes Westinghouse and Stone & Webster over who must pay for more than $950 million in cost overruns. Georgia Power has initiated a formal dispute resolution process, expecting negotiations with the consortium to continue over the next several months.

Meanwhile, uncertainty is looming for an $8.3 billion loan guarantee issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), an offer that was set to expire about 90 days after the Vogtle expansion project received its combined operating and construction license from federal regulators in February. The government extended the conditional commitment to the end of the year, and an agreement is now expected this fall. However, Southern Co. has said there can be “no assurance” that the DOE will issue the loan guarantee because financing remains subject to “definitive agreements” that are still under negotiation. If the loan guarantee does not come through, Georgia Power would finance construction of the two new reactors “through traditional capital markets financings,” the company has said.

—Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer.