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Vogtle-3 nuclear unit hot test, fuel load face delays again: Georgia Power

New York — Hot functional testing and fuel loading of Georgia Power's Vogtle-3 will take place later than previously announced, in part because of an increase in coronavirus cases at the construction site, the utility said in a Jan. 11 statement.

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The company said it still expects to bring the 1,150-MW unit into service by November, the deadline the Georgia Public Service Commission has set.

Georgia Power, the largest of four co-owners of the two-unit expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant in eastern Georgia, said more details about the delay will be made public when parent company Southern Company releases fourth-quarter financial results in February.

A "significant increase" in coronavirus cases since October at the site, consistent with national patterns, has affected construction productivity and testing, Georgia Power said. There have been separate productivity challenges affecting the schedule, it added.

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.

Southern Company is managing the construction project following the bankruptcy reorganization of reactor vendor Westinghouse in 2017 as a result of obligations related to the Vogtle project.

Company officials have previously said hot functional testing would begin in January. That testing establishes that the main nuclear components behave as expected at operating temperatures and pressures but without fuel in the core. It is the last major test before fuel can be loaded.

Georgia Power said in October that fuel loading would take place in April. However, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning said during an Oct. 29 earnings call that the milestone could take place mid-year and still meet the goal of operation by November. An executive of co-owner Oglethorpe Power said in November that fuel loading is scheduled for June.

Both milestones have been delayed several times before.

PSC staff has warned that the units could fail to meet the deadlines for commercial operation in November because of slow progress in the final stages of construction dating back for several years.