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NRC conducting special inspection of Georgia nuclear plant construction

Highlights

Thousands of hours spent to correct errors: officials

Schedule for operation has slipped several months

NRC must approve loading of fuel for new reactor

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is starting a special inspection of the construction of Georgia Power's Vogtle-3 nuclear reactor, after the owners reported significant cable installation errors in the new unit.

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NRC inspectors will review why the system for electrical power cabling was not installed properly at the nuclear plant being built near Augusta, and check the company's root cause analysis and corrective actions, the agency said in a statement June 21.

"The NRC will not authorize the licensee to load fuel and operate Vogtle Unit 3 until construction is complete and they have satisfied the standards identified in their combined license," the agency said.

NRC said the inspection will not affect hot functional testing -- a key preoperational test which is underway at the site and is the last major operation before fuel can be loaded in the reactor.

Georgia Power officials have said in testimony to the Georgia Public Service Commission that large quantities of cable installation did not meet construction codes for nuclear plants and had to be reworked in recent months. The error caused a delay in completion of the project to build two units there. Vogtle-3 was to have been in commercial operation by November, but the cable issue and other delays mean it will now likely not be operating until the first quarter of 2022, company officials said in May. State regulators monitoring the project have said operation could slip further.

The company became aware of a trend in improper electrical cable installation in late 2020 and in January 2021 concluded the issues were significant, company officials said in written testimony filed April 20 with the Georgia Public Service Commission. Georgia Power said the complexity of cable installation for digital systems in confined spaces had resulted in cabling that was sometimes not properly spaced, pulled too tightly to lay properly in cable trays or terminated incorrectly.

Those and other violations of electrical codes were found and required 130,000 hours of repair work at a total cost of $5 million to $10 million, said Aaron Abramowitz, vice president of business operations at Vogtle-3 and -4, during a PSC hearing May 18. Construction work at the site was halted for several days earlier this year to emphasize proper work practices, the company told the PSC.

A root cause review determined that the effort to complete the large amount of installation work in a short time caused some supervisors to accept work that was inadequately completed, the Georgia Power officials said in the April testimony.

The inspection is expected to focus on the remediation of the work and the company's improvement plans for installation and quality control, Georgia Power spokesman Jeffrey Wilson said June 21. "Southern Nuclear welcomes NRC's inspection of its construction activities and will be engaged in NRC's inspection process," he said.

Southern Nuclear Operating Co., which like Georgia Power is a subsidiary of Southern Co., is the main contractor on the project.

The completion of the two new Westinghouse-supplied AP1000 units at Vogtle has been delayed by a series of first-of-a-kind design, licensing, procurement, and construction problems. The units had originally been scheduled to be online by 2017. The cost of the project has climbed to more than $25 billion from the original $14 billion.