Southern CEO: Early start-up of Vogtle units possible

21 February 2020

Southern Company remains confident of meeting the regulatory-approved in-service date of November 2021 for unit 3 of the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, CEO Tom Fanning said during a presentation of its 2019 results. He noted the AP1000 unit could even be brought online as early as May next year, with unit 4 following a year later.

Unit 3 construction, pictured earlier this month (Image: Georgia Power)

Construction of unit 3 began in March 2013 and unit 4 in November the same year. Southern Nuclear and Georgia Power, both subsidiaries of Southern Company, took over management of the construction project in 2017 following Westinghouse's Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Vogtle 3 is scheduled to enter service by November 2021 and unit 4 by November 2022. Major systems testing began in November at Vogtle 3 in preparation for cold hydro testing and hot functional testing later this year. The unit's licensee, Southern Nuclear Operating Company, has informed the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) it plans to begin initial fuel loading on 23 November.

"In April 2019, we laid out an aggressive site work plan as a tool to achieve margin to meet the November 2021 and 2022 regulatory approved in-service dates," Fanning said. "Executing this strategy resulted in substantial progress at the site and we reached all major milestones in 2019."

Open vessel testing began at unit 3 in November, while the main control room was ready for testing in December. The total project is now 84% complete, he said, with direct construction of unit 3 now 85% complete and that of unit 4 is 63% complete. The aggressive site work plan established in April 2019 set a goal of approaching 90% completion of unit 3 direct construction by year-end.

Southern earlier this month completed a schedule refinement for Vogtle 3 and 4. This, Fanning said, had reached three major conclusions. "First, we confirmed our expected ability to achieve the November 2021 and 2022 in-service dates. Second, we supported the site strategy to continue to utilise an aggressive site work plan with no change to the May 2021 target in-service date for unit 3 and a two-month advancement of the target in-service date of unit 4 to March 2022. And third, we confirmed no change in the projected overall capital costs forecast.

"Under the refined aggressive site work plan, we have extended by about six weeks two of our near-term milestones for unit 3: starting cold hydro testing and hot functional testing. By extending these milestones, refining testing sequences between hot functional testing and fuel-load and planning to complete non-critical electrical work later in the schedule, we now have more time to complete construction and work down the current backlog of construction hours. With these changes the aggressive site work plan continues to target a unit 3 fuel load by the end of this year supporting a May 2021 in-service date."

Southern has also established a November benchmark that forecasts construction production levels and future milestone dates necessary to support the regulatory approved in-service date for unit 3 of November 2021.

"This benchmark provides a clear comparison to the refined aggressive site work plan," Fanning said. "On the November benchmark, fuel-load could occur as late as the summer of 2021 in support of a November 2021 in-service date. The November benchmark also supports our expectation that the aggressive site work plan is an appropriate strategy and provides sufficient flexibility to achieve the November 2021 regulatory approved in-service date."

The estimated cost of completing the Vogtle 3 and 4 project is USD2.5 billion, he said, adding  however there is no change to expected total cost.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News