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NRC: Vogtle 3 and 4 construction meeting safety objectives as work nears final phase

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined that construction on Southern Co.’s Vogtle Nuclear Units 3 and 4 expansion is meeting all public health and safety objectives.

The NRC’s annual review, released this week, looked over all of the inspection results and enforcement actions over the previous year (2018) at Vogtle 3 and 4. Southern Co.’s utility Georgia Power is leading the first new U.S. nuclear reactor construction project in several decades at a cost of about $25 billion and more than a decade’s worth of planning and work.

Georgia Power announced last month that the final concrete was placed in the reactor containment vessel for Unit 3 and fuel loading could begin as early as November. Vogtle project planners hope to commission Unit 3 next year and Unit 4 by 2022.

“The NRC determined that overall, VEGP Units 3 & 4 were being constructed in a manner that preserved public health and safety and met all cornerstone objectives,” reads the federal regulatory report. “The NRC determined the performance at VEGP Units 3 & 4 during the most recent quarter was within the Licensee Response Column of the NRC’s Construction Reactor Oversight Process (cROP) Action Matrix because all inspection findings had very low (i.e., green) safety significance.”

The NRC plans to visit Vogtle numerous times this year in advance of next year’s planned startup. The inspections include pre-service testing, process and effluent monitoring in the third quarter and security training and qualification in the fourth quarter.

Georgia Power, Dalton Power and other partners chose to proceed even after major cost overruns, work delays and original contractor Westinghouse’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2017. The new units will be powered by Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors.

The NRC release set out an April 13 deadline for anyone petitioning for a hearing on whether Vogtle Unit 3’s should be allowed to commence operations. Georgia Power plans to commission Unit 3 in 2021 and Unit 4 a year later.

More than 9,000 workers are currently involved in the construction site. Work on the expansion began in 2013.

Since the Georgia Public Service Commission reaffirmed the Vogtle project in 2017, the crews have achieved numerous construction milestones. Unit 3 was energized in the summer 2019, while the main control room began operations near the end of the year.

Nuclear energy generates close to 20 percent of the U.S. electricity mix and more than half of its carbon-free output, according to reports.

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN International . He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).