Vogtle Unit 3 In-Service Date Slides to May or June

Southern Company said in its annual report filing issued on Feb. 16 that remediating certain equipment and component issues will force the projected in-service date for Plant Vogtle Unit 3 to be pushed out to May or June 2023.

“The projected schedule for Unit 3 primarily depends on the progression of final component and pre-operational testing and start-up, which may be impacted by further equipment, component, and/or other operational challenges,” the company said. The most-recent problems were identified by Southern Nuclear earlier this year during start-up and pre-operational testing for Unit 3.

The delay could also affect the in-service date for Unit 4. “The projected schedule for Unit 4 primarily depends on potential impacts arising from Unit 4 testing activities overlapping with Unit 3 start-up and commissioning; maintaining overall construction productivity and production levels, particularly in subcontractor scopes of work; and maintaining appropriate levels of craft laborers,” the company said. Unit 4 is currently projected to be placed in service during late fourth quarter 2023 or in the first quarter 2024. Any further delays on Unit 3 could result in later in-service dates and cost increases on Unit 4.

Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor units with an electric generating capacity of approximately 1,100 MWs each being constructed in Waynesboro, Georgia. Southern Company’s Georgia Power subsidiary holds a 45.7% ownership interest in the project, with Oglethorpe Power Corp. (OPC, 30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG, 22.7%), and Dalton Utilities (1.6%) also holding stakes in the project.

In its annual report, Southern Company said Georgia Power’s share of the total project capital cost forecast to complete Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, including contingency, through the end of the second quarter 2023 and the first quarter 2024, respectively, is $10.6 billion. However, costs reported by MEAG in May last year suggested total spending for the expansion was close to $34 billion at the time. OPC has also reported costs in the past that penciled out higher than Georgia Power’s estimates on a percentage-of-ownership basis.

The Vogtle expansion project had seemed to be marching steadily toward completion last year. On July 29, 2022, Southern Nuclear announced that all Unit 3 Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria (ITAACs) had been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). On Aug. 3, 2022, the NRC published its 103(g) finding that the acceptance criteria in the combined license for Unit 3 had been met, which allowed nuclear fuel to be loaded and start-up testing to begin. Fuel load for Unit 3 was completed on Oct. 17, 2022. During Southern Company’s third quarter earning call, Chief Financial Officer Dan Tucker even noted a slight reduction in Georgia Power’s costs for the project, related to a lower estimate concerning the impact of a settlement with the other owners.

However, on Jan. 11, the company reported startup of Unit 3 would be delayed due to a vibrating pipe in the cooling system, which was noted during testing. At the time, Georgia Power spokesperson Jacob Hawkins said the problem was “not a safety issue.” Hawkins reported that the vibrating pipe was part of the reactor’s automatic depressurization system and that a brace was needed to provide the pipe with more support.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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