First new Vogtle unit closing in on October fuel load

29 July 2022

Only two more criteria need to be met for Vogtle unit 3 to receive regulatory clearance to begin fuel loading, Southern Company said in its second-quarter update. Both Vogtle 3 and 4 are expected to be in service by the end of 2023.

Vogtle 3, pictured in June 2022 (Image: Georgia Power)

Two of the last four ITAACs - Inspections, Tests, Analyses, and Acceptance Criteria - were filed on 28 June, Chairman, President and CEO Thomas Fanning said. When the final ITAACs are submitted, the company will submit an "all ITAAC complete" letter to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC would then be expected "within weeks" to issue the so-called 103(g) Letter documenting that all licence acceptance criteria for the AP1000 unit have been met. "Upon receipt of the 103(g) finding from the NRC, no further NRC findings are necessary for Southern Nuclear to load fuel or begin the start-up sequence," Fanning said.

In February this year, Southern subsidiary Georgia Power announced a 3-6 month delay to the start-up dates for the two AP1000 reactors, with unit 3 projected to enter service in the first quarter of 2023 and unit 4 in the fourth quarter of the year. Those dates remain valid, although the projected in-service dates will likely be "at the end of those ranges," Fanning said.

ITAACs are standards identified in the combined construction and operation licence for the plant which must be satisfied to provide reasonable assurance that the facility has been constructed and will operate in conformity with the licence, the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954, and the NRC's own rules and regulations. Most of the ITAACs arise from the design certification for the particular reactor technology used in the plant, with the rest being site-specific. A licensee cannot operate a facility until the NRC has verified that all ITAAC acceptance criteria are met, and the regulator has issued a finding to that effect under regulation 10 CFR 52.103(g): the 103(g) Letter.

"Receiving the 103(g) Letter is an important milestone but there's still more work to do before we load fuel," Fanning said. "In the weeks ahead we will be focusing on testing and surveillance, demobilisation, finishing work and documentation. To support an in-service date of the end of the first quarter of 2023, we will need to complete this work and load fuel by the end of October."

Hot functional testing of Vogtle 3 - the last series of major tests ahead of fuel load - began in April.

Direct construction work on unit 4 is now around 96% complete, and progress continues in advance of cold hydro testing and hot functional testing of that unit, Fanning said. For an in-service date of December 2023, the company's timeline calls for cold hydro testing to begin at unit 4 in January-February 2023, with hot functional testing in March-April and fuel loading in July-August. The company plans to transition electrical field engineers from unit 3 to support work at unit 4.

Nuclear capacity including Vogtle is part of Georgia Power's plans to provide energy to its 2.7 million customers over the next 20 years laid out in its latest Integrated Resource Plan, which was approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission on 21 July. As well as adding new renewable generation capacity and battery energy storage, the retirement of more than 1500 MWe of coal capacity by 2028, and an ongoing hydro modernisation programme, the IRP also authorises initiating a licence renewal application for the Hatch nuclear power plant, Chief Financial Officer Dan Tucker said.

Vogtle units 3 and 4 are co-owned by Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power (30%), MEAG Power (22.7%) and the municipality of Dalton (1.6%). In addition to the two AP1000s under construction, the site is also home to two operating pressurised water reactors. The two-unit boiling water reactor Hatch plant is jointly owned by Georgia Power (50.1%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation(30%), MEAG Power (17.7%) and Dalton (2.2%).

Researched and written by World Nuclear News