More delays for Vogtle NPP

20 June 2023

Commercial operation of unit 3 at Power’s Vogtle NPP has been delayed for another month. Georgia Power said the unit 3 has a problem in the hydrogen system that is used to cool its main electrical generator. The company now estimates the reactor will begin operation in July. Georgia Power said the problem was a degraded seal and the reactor has been shut down while repairs are made.

Parent company Southern Co said in a regulatory filing that Georgia Power is remediating a damaged hydrogen seal. It added that commissioning tests were 95% complete, but the plant will be offline while the seal is repaired. The company had previously expected the unit to begin commercial operation in June after it reached full energy output for the first time. Southern also said in the filing that new challenges identified during testing could result in further delays and elevated costs.

Vogtle 3&4 are both 1,117 MWe Westinghouse AP1000 reactors. Units 1&2 (1,215 MWe reactors also supplied by Westinghouse) were completed in 1987 and 1989. In 2009, the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority renewed their licences for an additional 20 years. Georgia Public Service Commission approved the new reactors for the Vogtle expansion in early 2009 and construction activities began the same year. At that time Vogtle 3&4 were expected to cost about $14bn and to enter service in 2016 and 2017 but suffered a series of delays, including as a result of 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. Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear are both subsidiaries of Southern Company. Southern told shareholders in April that a three-month delay at unit 3 would add $45m to construction costs for Georgia Power.

Meanwhile, unit 4 has finished a key testing phase and operators expect to start loading fuel between July and October, aiming for commercial operation between December and March 2024.

Image: A power generator at the Vogtle nuclear plant in Waynesboro (courtesy of Associated Press)

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