Georgia Power: New Vogtle Unit Still Set for 2021 Startup

The target in-service dates for two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant site in Georgia remain November 2021 and November 2022, respectively, Georgia Power said in a filing this week with the state’s Public Utility Commission.

The utility on Aug. 31, in its “Twenty-third Semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring Report,” said work on the two-unit expansion at the site in Waynesboro, Georgia, is progressing on pace despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest report, also known as the VCM (Vogtle Construction Monitoring), said cold hydro testing of Unit 3 (Figure 1) is set for this month, with hot functional testing planned to occur during the fourth quarter of this year.

Fuel loading of Unit 3 also is planned by year-end. The utility said that under an “aggressive work site plan,” Unit 3 could enter commercial operation as soon as May 2021, though the regulatory-approved date remains six months later.

Unit 3 Is 91% Complete

Georgia Power said work on Unit 3 is 91% complete, and construction of Unit 4 is about 68% finished. The utility in the report said that through the end of July 2020, 35 systems or partial systems had been turned over from construction to testing for Unit 3, and four systems or partial systems had been turned over for Unit 4.

1. Construction of Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle in Georgia is now 91% complete, according to Georgia Power. Courtesy: Georgia Power

The new reactors, each 1,100-MW AP1000 Westinghouse models, will be Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle. 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 more than 30 years.

Units 1 and 2 at the plant, both pressurized water reactors with combined generation capacity of about 2,430 MW, have operated since 1987 and 1989, respectively.

Georgia Power owns 45.7% of Plant Vogtle. Three other project partners—Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and the City of Dalton Utilities—own the remaining 54.3%.

Pandemic Concerns

The expansion project has been plagued by construction delays and cost overruns, and as recently as April there was concern the COVID-19 pandemic would further delay the project, as positive tests for the virus reduced the project’s workforce. Completion of the new reactors had been expected as early as 2016 when the project was first announced more than a decade ago. The project’s total cost was estimated by analysts in 2019 at about $27.5 billion.

The project has continued to progress despite the pandemic (Figure 2), though, and has achieved several milestones in recent months, including placement of the final module for Unit 3 in May.

2. A look inside the containment area of Unit 3 at Plant Vogtle, taken in August 2020. The coronavirus pandemic caused a reduction in the number of workers at the site, but construction remains on pace for a startup in 2021. Courtesy: Georgia Power

The utility in Monday’s filing said its share of the total project cost is projected at $8.5 billion, and said it and Southern Nuclear Co. (SNC), the utility’s agent for the construction, “continue to monitor and evaluate costs associated with the completion of the Project.” Georgia Power noted that its projected share of the total project cost rose after “recently announced contingency allocations and replenishment of contingency,” and said it is “not seeking approval of costs above the Commission-approved $7.3 billion estimate in this filing.”

Georgia Power said the increased costs stemmed primarily from actions taken due to the pandemic, which included “higher forecasted costs for construction productivity, including the April 2020 reduction in workforce; craft labor incentives; additional resources for supervision, field support, project management, initial test program, start-up, operations and engineering support; subcontracts; and procurement.”

Georgia Power in the report said the project “continues to navigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Project’s workforce, schedule, and cost. Protecting the health and safety of the Vogtle 3 and 4 team, as well as the surrounding community, continues to be the highest priority for the Project.” The utility said more than 7,000 workers are currently at the site, and in a statement this week said that as of Sept. 1 there were 94 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 among construction workers at Vogtle.

“Georgia Power remains focused on protecting the safety and health of workers at the Vogtle 3 & 4 construction site. Site leadership will continue to closely monitor conditions using the data available and will draw on the expertise of health officials, including the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the medical professionals providing guidance specifically for our Vogtle 3 & 4 team,” Georgia Power’s John Kraft said in a statement.

Proactive Response to Pandemic

The utility had reported earlier, and confirmed again in Monday’s report, that it continues to take “numerous proactive measures in response to COVID-19. These actions include the expansion of on-site medical facilities that are equipped to administer COVID-19 testing, deep cleaning of workspaces, reducing the number of workers in given areas, and utilizing facial coverings when social distancing is not possible.” The utility said the number of positive COVID-19 tests at the Waynesboro site “spiked in late April before declining in a manner similar to that witnessed in the public at large. Following several weeks of zero confirmed cases on site, the number of confirmed positive tests began climbing again and followed a similar trajectory to the local area. As of the date of this filing, over 800 workers on site have tested positive, with over 700 eligible to return to work, since the beginning of the pandemic. In recent weeks, the site has followed the general trend in the region with a decline in the number of active cases.”

Kraft in a statement said, “The proactive measures we’ve implemented throughout this pandemic to limit the spread of the virus and protect the health and safety of our workforce will continue and evolve based on any new information and guidelines.”

Georgia Power in its filing Monday said that impacts from the pandemic, along with other factors, led the project team to re-evaluate the timeline for bringing Unit 3 online, and said “Analysis of the production levels required for overall construction and key commodities as well as current construction progress provides reasonable assurance that the Project should meet the regulatory-approved in-service date for Unit 3.”

The utility said it “also developed a preliminary view of the Unit 4 November benchmark schedule that tracks to the regulatory-approved in-service date of November 2022. The preliminary Unit 4 November benchmark schedule utilized a similar approach to the November benchmark schedule developed for Unit 3, but work remains before the Unit 4 November benchmark schedule can be finalized.”

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

SHARE this article