New Vogtle units no longer on startup pace, says monitor

June 17, 2020, 1:25PMNuclear News

While there has been some good news recently regarding the historically troubled nuclear new-build project at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Ga. (see here and here), the latest news on the subject does not fall into that category.

In testimony filed on June 5 with the Georgia Public Service Commission (GPSC), Donald Grace, vice president of engineering for the Vogtle Monitoring Group (VMG) and a member of the GPSC’s public interest advocacy staff, cast serious doubt on Southern Company’s ability to complete the construction of Vogtle-3 and -4, AP1000 pressurized water reactors, in time to meet their regulator-approved start dates. In addition, he said he expects the total cost of the project to go up.

Grace further noted in his testimony that the COVID-19 pandemic was not part of VMG’s analysis, as it used data supplied by Southern Company subsidiaries Southern Nuclear Company (SNC) and Georgia Power through mid-March. (In April, Southern cut the Vogtle construction project’s workforce by 20 percent in response to the pandemic.)

From Grace's testimony: "With respect to the regulatory required commercial operation dates of November 2021 (Unit 3) and November 2022 (Unit 4), it is highly unlikely that they will be achieved, and with respect to the total project cost, even if the regulatory approved November 2021/2022 commercial operation dates were achieved, VMG forecasts that the total project cost would be roughly $1 billion over the regulatory approved $17.1 billion.”

More from the testimony: "VMG is of the opinion that a primary root cause of poor productivity and production is due to SNC’s strategy of accelerating testing prior to completion of a greater degree of the bulk construction commodities, which then leads to inefficient and costly execution of construction. Further, VMG is of the opinion that SNC’s decision to accelerate testing was most likely due to the realization that an optimal construction schedule, together with the required durations of testing activities, would not allow SNC to meet the regulatory required commercial operation dates. SNC erroneously concluded that deviation from normal industry practice would shorten the schedule.”

A different opinion: In an email to Nuclear News, Georgia Power spokeswoman Adrienne Tickle reiterated her company’s belief that the in-service dates of November 2021 and November 2022 for Vogtle-3 and -4 will be met. “The project is continuing its strategy of utilizing an aggressive site work plan as a tool to help us achieve the November regulatory approved dates,” she said, adding that “the total project capital cost forecast remains unchanged.”

Grace’s testimony and other documents related to the Vogtle-3 and -4 construction monitoring are available from the GPSC.

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