US Georgia Power said on 18 May that because of delays in completing hot functional testing, unit 3 at its Vogtle expansion project is now unlikely to start generating electricity before January at the earliest. Georgia Power had been aiming to complete the first unit in November, but officials told investors in April that it would probably be finished in December. Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved the Vogtle expansion project in 2009, including construction of two 1,117MWe Westinghouse AP1000 reactors which were expected to begin operation in 2016 and 2017.

The Vogtle project has faced numerous delays and financial challenges over the years with costs increasing from $14 billion to $25 billion. As well as the current COVID-19 pandemic, the 2017 bankruptcy of original contractor Westinghouse held back progress for several years. Vogtle is the only nuclear plant under construction in the USA and would be the first nuclear plant completed in more than three decades.

Company officials said testing began in late April and would take three weeks longer than expected. It is unlikely to be completed before late June, adding more time to construction and startup. The additional month will add another $48 million to the cost of the two new units being built alongside two smaller operating units at the site. The project is now projected to cost more than $26 billion for all its owners, including Georgia Power, electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. 

The further delay was disclosed in a periodic hearing with the Georgia PSC to discuss spending and construction progress at Vogtle – the only new nuclear plant being built in the USA. The first reactor is 98% complete. The second unit is currently scheduled to start operating in November 2022.

Georgia Power said there was some evidence that contractors were declaring work complete without testing for deficiencies, relying on inspectors to catch it and fix any problems later, AP reported. Hot functional testing at the first reactor has revealed more expansion of metal parts as systems were heated up than was anticipated. “There’s a chance we may need to make some adjustments to the structural supports,” Stephen Kuczynski, president and CEO of operating company Southern Nuclear, said.

Vogtle NPP in eastern Georgia is jointly owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

Image courtesy of Georgia Power