Agency increases review of Georgia nuclear power plant, citing problems

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ATLANTA (AP) – Nuclear regulators said on Friday they would take a closer look at the construction of two new nuclear reactors under construction at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle after a special inspection found the power cables were not properly separated.

Southern Nuclear Co., the unit of Southern Co. based in Atlanta in charge of building the reactors, still has a chance to challenge the results before they are finalized by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The special inspection is what independent auditors hired by Georgia state utility regulators have long said: that contractors and Southern did a shoddy job while rushing to meet an unworkable schedule, requiring that the work be redone.

Inspectors discovered that Southern Nuclear had several chances of detecting problems.

“Leaders did not stress that individuals take the time to get the job done right the first time, seek advice when in doubt and stop if an unexpected condition arises,” the commission wrote in documents from inspection.

Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft did not say whether Southern Nuclear would challenge the findings.

“Many of these issues have already been identified by Southern Nuclear and reported to the NRC,” Kraft wrote in an email. “Corrective action plans have been put in place and work has been underway for months to resolve these issues, in close coordination with NRC. “

The commission issued an inspection statement and documents on Friday after a special inspection launched on June 21 of reactors under construction near Augusta. Electrical wiring systems are supposed to be designed to prevent a single problem from damaging nuclear power plant equipment necessary to maintain safety.

Georgia Power is a minority owner of the project, which is expected to cost more than $ 27.8 billion in total, not to mention $ 3.68 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid homeowners after going bankrupt.

Other owners include most of Georgia’s electric co-ops and municipal utilities. The Jacksonville Electric Authority of Florida and some other municipal and cooperative utilities in Florida and Alabama are also required to purchase power from the plant.

Southern says Vogtle Unit 3 is now expected to start operating in spring 2022, while Unit 4 is expected to be completed in 2023. Independent monitors dispute this timeline, saying June 2022 is the closest possible start date. for Unit 3 and that the project will cost up to $ 1 billion more than Southern has acknowledged so far.

The commission said it initiated the review after Southern Nuclear reported around 600 cases in which work failed to meet cable separation requirements. Inspectors found that Southern Nuclear had failed to properly separate the cables from the reactor coolant pumps and the equipment designed to safely shut down the reactor. A second, less significant finding released on Friday cited additional issues with the way the tray system that carries power cables was constructed.

The inspectors classified their findings for the power cables as having a “white” or “weak to moderate” significance, one level above the lowest level of green. Still, they are enough to herald greater NRC oversight over the construction of Vogtle, if Southern Nuclear does not dispute the results and they are finalized.

The commission stressed that it will not let Southern Nuclear load radioactive fuel into the plant until it meets all standards. The commission said that because no fuel was loaded, the public was never in danger.

The reactors, approved in 2012, were initially estimated at $ 14 billion, with the first new reactor scheduled to start production in 2016. Delays and costs have skyrocketed, especially after Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

The company says the third reactor is 99% complete and the overall project 93% complete.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.



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