Georgia Power is adjusting the work schedule for the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant, with the company saying hot functional testing and fuel loading of the new Unit 3 will be delayed due to “a significant increase in COVID-19 cases” at the worksite near Waynesboro, Georgia.
The utility, part of Southern Company, on Jan. 11 said it still expects to bring the 1,100-MW Unit 3 online no later than November. The first shipment of nuclear fuel for Unit 3 was delivered in December 2020.
Unit 4 of the two-unit expansion is scheduled to come online in November 2022. The utility said it will provide more updates to the project’s timeline during Southern Company’s quarterly earnings call in February.
Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear over the past year have made “significant adjustments to work practices” at the Vogtle site due to the coronavirus pandemic. Georgia Power on Monday said that “Since October, the site has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases, consistent with the broader regional and national rise in cases. This increase, combined with other productivity challenges, continues to impact construction production and the pace of testing activity completion.”
The expansion project, which involves the addition of two new Westinghouse-supplied AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle, has been plagued by construction delays and cost overruns. Official estimates of the project’s cost have been pegged at $25 billion, up from the original $14 billion; other estimates have put the project’s cost at closer to $30 billion. Georgia Power in securities filings has noted several impacts from the pandemic, including disruptions to supply chains and reduced availability of labor.
The utility in 2020 at one point cut about 2,000 of the 9,000 workers on site at Vogtle in an effort to lessen the spread of the coronavirus. The company in an August 2020 filing with the Georgia Public Service Commission said more than 1,000 workers had tested positive for COVID-19, and also said about 6,600 workers at the site had been isolated at some point after possibly being in close contact to someone who had tested positive for the virus.
The Vogtle project represents the only two commercial reactor units currently under construction in the U.S. The project has reached several milestones in the past year, including placement of the final module—a massive water tank—on top of Unit 3.
Units 1 and 2 at Vogtle 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%.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).