State Regulators Warn of More Delays at Vogtle

A filing by Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) staff and consultants on Nov. 22 said Georgia Power’s expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant is falling further behind schedule. The filing Friday came the same day that the utility announced the sixth and last containment ring for the two-unit expansion was set in place.

The PSC filing said the current deadlines for commercial operation of two new reactors are “significantly challenged” amid construction delays. The filing also noted safety risks for workers at the site near Waynesboro, Georgia. Georgia Power has said more than 8,000 workers are currently at the job site.

The Vogtle project is several years behind its original schedule—completion had been expected as early as 2016 when the project was first announced more than a decade ago—and billions of dollars over budget. Officials with Georgia Power and its parent Southern Co. have in the past year pointed to November 2021 and November 2022 as expected dates for the new reactors to enter commercial operation.

Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Co., in a conference call with analysts in October said the company continues to work with those deadlines in mind. He also said the estimated costs to complete the project had not changed.

Expansion Includes Two 1,100-MW Reactors

The project involves construction of two, 1,100-MW AP1000 reactors known as Units 3 and 4 at the site. Units 1 and 2 at Plant 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%.

The two new reactors were expected to cost a total of about $14 billion when the expansion was approved by the PSC in 2009, but the latest estimates from analysts put the current cost at $27.5 billion.

A Georgia Power spokesman on Nov. 23 in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper said, “Georgia Power continues to expect that we will achieve the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle units 3 and 4, respectively.” This was in response to the Friday filing by PSC staff and consultants, which said regulators are not able to estimate the in-service dates because a construction schedule submitted by Georgia Power earlier this year was not reasonable and is “no longer relevant to the project.” The filing said the current deadlines for operation of the two new units are “significantly challenged.”

The PSC also noted two incidents this month, involving valve closure and argon gas venting, that it said put workers at risk. The filing said that during testing a valve wasn’t closed as required, “and water entered the room where electricians were working. Two electricians were injured while trying to exit the room.”

The filing said that a day earlier, argon gas was vented into a room where construction was occurring. “An air quality alarm went off and the room was evacuated,” the filing said.

Construction Milestones Achieved

PSC staff in the Friday document said the Vogtle project is already “significantly behind the schedule” that was set in April, and said Georgia Power’s aggressive construction schedule has not been met. It said that aggressive schedule is in part responsible for what it called reduced “productivity” at the site.

Though the PSC has warned the current in-service dates are in jeopardy, Georgia Power has said several construction milestones have been achieved in the past few months. The final major module for the two-unit expansion was delivered a few weeks ago. Georgia Power in a news release on Friday said the third ring of the Unit 4 containment vessel—the last of six containment vessel rings for the project, which includes three rings for each unit—was put in place. The company in the release said, “Weighing more than a jumbo jet, with a diameter of 130 feet and standing approximately 38 feet high, the ring is a key structural part of the Unit 4 high-integrity steel containment vessel that houses critical plant components, including the reactor vessel.”

The company also said, “Significant progress continues at the site with recent milestones completed, including the placement of the final reinforced concrete portion of the Unit 4 shield building. The 148-cubic yard placement took eight hours to complete and, once cured, allows for the placement of the first course of double-decker panels. Also, the upper inner casing for the Unit 3 high-pressure turbine has been placed, signifying the completion of the centerline alignment, which will mean minimal vibration and less stress on the rotors during operations, resulting in more efficient power generation.”

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