Faulty coolant pump delays commissioning of Vogtle 4

11 October 2023

US Georgia Power has reported the discovery of a malfunctioning coolant pump at unit 4 of its Vogtle NPP, resulting in a delay in commissioning of the unit. The problem in one of the reactor’s four pumps was found during pre-operational testing and startup of the unit, which had been expected begin operation later this year. Instead, the reactor now is forecast to begin operations in the first quarter of 2024. The problem with the coolant pump was an “isolated event,” Georgia Power said in a report filed with the US Securities & Exchange Commission. The company has a replacement on hand and is working to replace the malfunctioning pump.

Fuel loading at Vogtle 4 began in August. Unit 3 began commercial operation at the end of July. Vogtle 3&4 are both 1,117 MWe Westinghouse AP1000 pressurised water reactors (PWRs). The two units were originally expected to cost about $14bn and to enter service in 2016 and 2017 but suffered a series of delays, including Westinghouse’s bankruptcy in 2017. The total cost of the project to build Vogtle 3&4 is now put at more than $30bn. Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the project; Oglethorpe Power Corp owns 30%; the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) owns 22.7%; and the city of Dalton owns 1.6%. The units will be operated by Southern Nuclear.

News of further delays to Vogtle 4 came one day after the Georgia Power announced it had settled a lawsuit with Oglethorpe Power Corp. The settlement calls for Georgia Power to pay Oglethorpe Power $413m associated with cost overruns on the project, including $308m in construction costs and $113m in projected capital expenses. Oglethorpe sued Georgia Power in June 2022, declaring at the time it was exercising an option agreed to by all four project co-owners in 2018 by capping what it was willing to pay for the project.

As part of the 2018 agreement, Oglethorpe said it would reduce its share of ownership in the Vogtle expansion project from 30% to 28% in exchange for Georgia Power’s paying 100% of Oglethorpe’s remaining share of construction costs. However, under the latest settlement, Oglethorpe has agreed to keep its 30% ownership share and drop the litigation.

“Oglethorpe Power and our members are experiencing growth on our system, so there’s great value in keeping our full Vogtle capacity, especially at a significantly reduced cost,” said Heather Teilhet, Oglethorpe’s senior vice president of external affairs.

“We are pleased to have reached a settlement with Oglethorpe Power in this matter, and that Oglethorpe Power will retain its full ownership interest in these new units,” Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins added. “We continue to work constructively with all our partners to complete the Vogtle expansion, bringing clean and reliable energy to Georgia.”

In September 2022, Georgia Power resolved a similar dispute with co-owner Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) in September 2022. Similar litigation with co-owner Dalton Utilities is still pending.

Image: Vogtle 4 (courtesy of Georgia Power)

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