Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning said the group continues to stick to its most-recent timeline for startup of the two-unit expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, telling participants in the company’s first-quarter 2022 earnings call that construction is pacing well, with fuel load for Unit 3 expected later this year.
“Importantly, the projected completion timeline and capital cost forecast for both units are unchanged from the updates that we provided last quarter. Since that time, we’ve seen sustained progress consistent with our expectations for each unit,” said Fanning during the April 28 call, noting that Unit 3 is expected to be in-service no later than the first quarter of 2023, and perhaps by the end of this year, with Unit 4 expected to come online no later than year-end 2023.
Long-Awaited Nuclear Project
The addition of two 1,100-MW units at Vogtle is the only utility-scale nuclear power construction project underway in the U.S., and when complete would represent the first U.S. major new nuclear power plant project finished in more than 30 years.
The Vogtle project is years behind its original schedule and billions of dollars above its original budget. The two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors were expected to enter service as early as 2016, at a cost of about $14 billion. Current cost of the project is estimated at more than $27 billion.
Fanning on Thursday confirmed that the project’s owners—Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%)—in late February “unanimously voted” to continue construction, a necessary measure to accept the project’s capital costs.
“This decision underscores the importance of the 2,200 megawatts of baseload carbon-free energy, which will be vital to increasing the availability of net-zero resources for customers across the state,” said Fanning. “We value our partners on Vogtle 3 and 4 and the relationships that we have had with them across multiple endeavors for decades.”
NRC Completes Inspection
Southern in Thursday’s investor presentation stayed with its previously announced $10.4 billion capital cost estimate for Georgia Power’s share of building the new reactors.
Fanning in discussing construction progress said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) “completed its follow-up inspection [at the construction site in Waynesboro, Georgia] this week and issued its final supplemental report. The inspection verified that Southern Nuclear effectively implemented the corrective actions and remediation efforts at the site. No additional findings were identified during the follow-up inspection and the findings identified last year have been closed. With this step complete, the Vogtle site returns to the baseline inspection program.”
The NRC last year in a letter to Southern Nuclear said it could increase its oversight of the project after an inspection found problems that the agency said could impact operation of the nuclear plant.
Fanning said Southern, with regard to Unit 3, continues “to progress towards receipt of the NRC’s 103G letter,” a verification document from the agency. “All necessary systems have been turned over from construction to testing, and nearly all the inspection records necessary for submission of the remaining ITAAC [inspections, tests, analyses, and acceptance criteria] are now complete,” Fanning said.
“Associated with this progress, 70 ITAAC were submitted to the NRC since our last earnings call and 53 ITAAC remain,” Fanning said. “Of these remaining ITAAC, the last 30 to 40 are expected to be completed just prior to submitting the all ITAAC complete letter to the NRC in support of the 103G letter.” The CEO said Southern has provided “an updated ITAAC completion schedule” to the agency, and added, “Following receipt of the 103G letter from the NRC and as Unit 3 continues its transformation from construction to operations, our efforts will be focused on completing the remaining inspection records, system turnovers and the necessary pre-operational and component test required to load fuel later this year.”
Unit 4 94% Complete
Fanning said construction of Unit 4 is about 94% complete. He said the unit “continues to make progress in advance of cold hydro testing and hot functional testing. We believe we have the resources we need on site for Unit 4 and have a clear plan for transitioning additional personnel from Unit 3 as we continue our focus on increasing productivity and ensuring first-time quality.” He also said, “Now that we have a set of learnings at Unit 3, I think we have a better sense as to how to proceed on Unit 4 incorporating those learnings. And so you will see that in the Unit 4 progression.
“Overall, construction completion [of Unit 4] has averaged 0.9% per month since the start of the year, supportive of a September 2023 in-service and ahead of the 0.4% average projected to be needed through the year-end to achieve a December 2023 in-service date,” Fanning said. “For electrical production specifically, progress on Unit 4 is meeting our current expectations. However, electrical production will need to increase to support our projected in-service dates.”
Plant Vogtle has two existing reactors, with combined generation capacity of 2,450 MW. Unit 1 began operation in 1987, with Unit 2 coming online in 1989.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).