US utility Georgia Power on 30 July ordered the first fuel load for unit 3 of the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, where two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors are under construction.
Vogtle 3 is scheduled to begin commercial operation in November 2021 and unit 4 in November 2022. Construction of Vogtle 3 began in March 2013 and unit 4 the following November. Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power (both subsidiaries of Southern Company) took over management of the construction project in 2017 after Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Some 157 fuel assemblies, each 4.3m long, will be loaded into Vogtle 3 prior to start-up. Sunsequently, about one-third of the total fuel assemblies will be replaced during each refuelling outage after the unit begins operating.
Georgia Power said that significant progress continues to be made at the construction site, with the recent placement of unit 3's containment vessel top, as well as the installation of three low-pressure turbine rotors and the generator rotor inside the unit's turbine building.
In May, Georgia Power announced the initial energisation of the individual electrical components at Vogtle 3. The two new units are estimated to cost Georgia Power some $25bn.
Vogtle already has two pressurised water reactors that began commercial operation in the late 1980s. In March, energy secretary Rick Perry finalised up to $3.7bn in additional loan guarantees to finance continued construction of the two units. The decision brought the federal government’s total in loan guarantees for the project to $12bn, some of which was provided by the Obama administration in 2014 and 2015. Georgia Power is the lead owner of the project, working with Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities.
However, Georgia regulators are raising fresh doubts about Georgia Power’s schedule for completing the two units because of productivity slips and concerns about ageing equipment. The project is already years behind scheduled and billions of dollars over budget .Public Service Commission (PSC) staff wrote in a report released on 30 July that it would be a challenge for Georgia Power to make the state’s approved deadlines of November of 2021 and 2022.
However, Georgia Power spokesman Jeff said, “We have every expectation we will meet those deadlines.” Originally, the new reactors were supposed to be in full operation by April 2017. Regulators are now concerned that some parts, such as valves and pumps, have been so long without effective maintenance that they will fail or will be out of warranty, adding to costs. They added that the company is taking approaches “inconsistent with Staff’s collective experience in nuclear construction and large plant construction”, including premature focus on systems testing before more construction is finished.
PSC staff warned that critical equipment could be damaged if it is operated during testing without all the instruments and safety features that would be present with a complete system. Staff also raised concerns about bottlenecks of workers, which the company has tried to avoid by using a larger night shift. Other concerns include higher worker absentee rates and much lower than planned productivity rates for mechanical and electrical trades.
However, regulators concluded that if the company manages to complete the project on its latest schedule there is “a chance” it will stay within budget, in part because Georgia Power’s latest estimate includes $1.4 billion in contingency funds.