By David Pendered
A new report on the construction status of the Vogtle nuclear plant, released Wednesday by Moody’s Investors Service, provides greater detail than a May 10 statement released by Georgia Power and cites a number of risks that could further delay the plant’s opening date.
Georgia Power’s statement hit the highlights of the Semi-Annual Construction Monitoring Report, which was released in February. Here are some of the highlights cited in the May 10 statement:
- “Over the past week, workers placed the four main step-up transformers, each weighing 420,000 pounds, inside the Unit 4 transformer bays located near the unit’s turbine building.
- “The transformers will increase the voltage produced by the turbine generators from 26,000 volts to 500,000 volts before the energy flows to the state’s power grid to serve hundreds of thousands of customers.
- “Teams also completed a significant concrete placement inside the Unit 4 containment vessel, clearing the path for installation of the first floor module for the unit, CA32.
- “Other recent milestones at the site include the placement of the second floor module for the Unit 3 operating deck, CA56. This module is part of the steel floor that sits above the In-Containment Refueling Water Storage Tank (IRWST). The IRWST is a 75,300-cubic-foot tank that, once the units are operational, is filled with borated water and is a key safety feature within containment providing automatic, gravity-fed backup cooling for the reactor vessel.”
Moody’s report addresses a list of frequently asked questions about the Vogtle project as it relates to MEAG, the Municipal Electric Authority. MEAG is a partner in the Vogtle project, along with Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corp., and the City of Dalton Combined Utility.
The first sentence of Moody’s report observes:
- “Construction is progressing on the Vogtle Nuclear Units 3 and 4 in Georgia, offering additional credit stability to the owners of the units, though the work is still only around 50 percent completed and is several years behind the original schedule.”
Commercial operations are to begin before the planned dates of November 2021, for Unit 3, and November 2022, for Unit 4, according to the Moody’s report and Georgia Power statement.
Moody’s report evaluates potential problems that could affect the opening date, including the loading of nuclear fuel into the plant. The report cited delays in loading fuel into a similar nuclear plant being built in China. That plant was to begin operations in 2014 but, in February, China halted fuel loading citing “safety concerns”, according to a report by Reuters. The loading did begin on April 25, according to a report by World Nuclear News.
This is how Moody’s analysts described the potential scenario at Plant Vogtle, which includes concerns in addition to fuel loading:
- “Cost and schedule risks include: whether Westinghouse, which designed the reactor, can continue to meet obligations under the Services Agreement; post fuel-load issues arising from delays to the Chinese Sanmen project using the same AP1000 technology as Vogtle; first-of-a-kind engineering issues such as installation and operation of the squib valves as well as cybersecurity programs. Procurement issues are also a risk.”
The Moody’s report addressed issues the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could raise:
- “Completion could be delayed if the NRC finds construction does not meet the design standard. Quality assurance issues cited in past Vogtle construction monitoring reports (VCM) led to delays, and regulatory staff are unable to assert new challenges are not present.”
Georgia Power’s construction monitoring report included this observation of NRC’s oversight of quality issues:
- “The Project received no Notices of Violation and remained in favorable standing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (“NRC”), as indicated by its green status under the NRC’s Construction Reactor Oversight Process (“cROP”).
- “The cROP was designed and implemented to ensure reactors under construction are built according to the NRC-approved design by monitoring performance in construction reactor safety, operational readiness, and the implementation of adequate security programs for both construction and operations.
- This program allows the NRC to arrive at objective conclusions about a licensee’s effectiveness in assuring construction quality, provide for predictable responses to performance issues, and to clearly communicate performance assessment results to the public.”