The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), a North Carolina–based antinuclear organization, is claiming that Vogtle-3—one of two 1,100-MWe AP1000 pressurized water reactors currently under construction at the Vogtle nuclear plant near Waynesboro, Ga.—is sinking.
BREDL filed a 19-page petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on May 11, requesting an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board hearing on a license amendment request (LAR) for Vogtle-3 filed earlier this year. Plant operator Southern Nuclear is seeking to revise the unit’s combined license and licensing basis to narrow the seismic gap requirement between the nuclear island and portions of the adjacent annex building. According to the LAR, the unit’s settlement survey data indicate that “the nuclear island basemat has deflected more in the center and less at the perimeter,” necessitating the proposed change in order to “accommodate construction as-built localized nonconformances.” BREDL wants the LAR denied and the Vogtle-3 license revoked.
BREDL: “Vogtle has finally admitted that the sheer weight of the nuclear island building is causing it to sink into the red Georgia clay,” said Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear power opponent of some prominence, in a BREDL press release. “It is figuratively and literally sinking under its own weight. Islands are not supposed to sink.”
In its petition, BREDL contends that the LAR language regarding the unit’s nonconformances is inaccurate. “The ‘as-built’ condition of the wall in question was correct at the time it was built,” the petition states. “Its most recent location is not an ‘as-built localized nonconformance.’ Without human intervention, the wall moved after it was constructed because the [nuclear island] is sinking. . . . The structural engineering term for the differential downward deflection forming at the center of the Vogtle foundation, due to additional weight in the middle of the structure, is called ‘dishing’ or ‘cupping’ and is known to present serious structural and seismic problems beyond the leaning walls encountered at Vogtle Unit 3.”
Georgia Power: Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power responded to the BREDL petition in a May 14 email to Nuclear News: “Southern Nuclear submitted its license amendment request for the Vogtle-3 and -4 project as a normal part of the process of constructing a nuclear power plant” said spokesman Jeff Wilson. “As always, the health and safety of the public is our top priority. This LAR is based on a safety evaluation that demonstrates that the amendment to the license would continue to provide assurance of public health and safety. The petitioner’s unsupported allegations are without merit.”
The NRC’s take: In a March 10 Federal Register notice announcing the opportunity to comment, request a hearing, and petition for leave to intervene in the matter, the NRC stated that it had “made a proposed determination that the license amendment request involves no significant hazards consideration. Under the NRC’s regulations in 10 CFR 50.92, this means that operation of the facility in accordance with the proposed amendment would not (1) involve a significant increase in the probability or consequences of an accident previously evaluated; or (2) create the possibility of a new or different kind of accident from any accident previously evaluated; or (3) involve a significant reduction in a margin of safety.”