Southern Co. in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on April 1 said the COVID-19 pandemic “could disrupt or delay construction, testing, supervisory and support activities” at the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion project in Georgia.
The company in the filing said, “It is too early to determine what impact, if any, the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the current construction schedule or budget” for the two new nuclear reactors at the site near Waynesboro, Georgia. Southern said state and federal government actions designed to slow the spread of the virus, such as stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, could bring disruptions to both the labor pool and supply chains.
The company said effects of the coronavirus pandemic “could disrupt or delay construction, testing, supervisory and support activities at Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.”
John Kraft, a spokesperson for Georgia Power, the lead utility on the project, told POWER on Wednesday that “Construction work continues at the site under continuing enhanced protocols designed to reduce worker-to-worker contact and keep areas that workers frequent, cleaned and sanitized. Georgia Power remains focused on protecting the safety and health of workers at the Vogtle 3 & 4 site, and the company has implemented comprehensive plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The coronavirus outbreak already has caused the Department of Energy to scale back operations at nuclear remediation sites across the country, according to Exchange Monitor, a POWER sister publication.
Workers Tested for Virus
A Plant Vogtle spokeswoman on Wednesday told WRDW, an Augusta, Georgia, television station, that no workers at the site have tested positive for coronavirus, although test results are still outstanding for 13 workers at the site. The spokeswoman said 31 workers have tested negative for COVID-19.
Southern in its SEC filing said effects from the virus could “have a variety of adverse impacts on the company and its subsidiaries, including reduced demand for energy.” The company said impacts could impair “the ability of the company and its subsidiaries to develop, construct and operate facilities and to access funds from financial institutions and capital markets.”
The Vogtle project has had about 9,000 workers onsite. The project, a two-unit expansion featuring two AP1000 reactors, reached another milestone March 27 with the placement of the Unit 4 containment vessel top head. The completion of that work comes about one year after the Unit 3 containment vessel top was lifted into place. Work on the two reactors is about 84% complete, according to Georgia Power, the lead utility on the project.
Georgia Power earlier this month ordered the first fuel load for Unit 4. On its current timeline, Vogtle 3 is scheduled to enter service by November 2021, with Unit 4 coming online by November 2022.
The two new units at Vogtle are the first in the industry to use the Westinghouse AP1000 advanced pressurized water reactor technology, which allows nuclear cores to be cooled even in the absence of operator interventions or mechanical assistance. The AP1000 is the only Generation III+ reactor to receive Design Certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Units 3 and 4 are the first new nuclear units built in the U.S. in the more than 30 years.
Supply Chain Disruptions
Southern also said government actions to slow the spread of the virus could result in disruptions to supply chains and reduced availability of labor, among other effects, which may “have a variety of adverse impacts on the company and its subsidiaries, including reduced demand for energy.” A recent study by the Electric Power Research Institute showed peak demand and energy use has dropped as much as 21% in some areas as a result of measures designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Southern in its SEC filing said disruptions due to the coronavirus may impair “the ability of the company and its subsidiaries to develop, construct and operate facilities and to access funds from financial institutions and capital markets.” The company said restrictions on travel and other measures “have significantly disrupted economic activity in the service territories of the Company’s utility subsidiaries and have caused volatility in capital markets. In addition, the Company’s utility subsidiaries have temporarily suspended disconnections for non-payment by certain customer classes. The effects of the continued outbreak of COVID-19 and related government responses could include extended disruptions to supply chains and capital markets, reduced labor availability and productivity and a prolonged reduction in economic activity.”
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).