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Vogtle 3 and 4 nuclear expansion workforce reduced by 20% due to COVID-19 impact

Georgia Power, the lead utility on the Vogtle nuclear expansion project, announced that it is reducing the Units 3 and 4 construction workforce by 20 percent after multiple workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Southern Co.-owned Georgia Power noted that the reduced workforce will help social distancing practices at the site. It also will add an estimated $15 million to $30 million to the $25 billion construction effort, but the utility does not currently envision delays on making Unit 3 operational by next year and Unit 4 in 2022.

“This reduction in workforce is a mitigating action that is intended to address the impact of the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) on the Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 workforce and construction site, including ongoing challenges with labor productivity that have been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19. It is expected to provide operational efficiencies by increasing productivity of the remaining workforce and reducing workforce fatigue and absenteeism,” reads the SEC filing Thursday by Southern Co.

The reduction was done on Wednesday.

“The workforce levels resulting from this reduction are expected to last into the summer as Georgia Power continues to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 on the project.”

MERS virus, Meadle-East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus

Georgia Power is the lead owner in the Vogtle expansion group which also includes Oglethorpe Power, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Utilities. Earlier this month, the utility informed the SEC that because of the COVID-19 pandemic impact delays were possible in the ongoing work to build the Units 3 and 4 near Waynesboro, Georgia.

The Vogtle expansion has achieved numerous milestones lately, including the top heads, or domes, being placed atop the Units 3 and 4 containment vessels. Earlier, Georgia Power reported that fuel loading for Unit 3 could begin by November this year, although that statement came well before the virus swept across the world.

“The ultimate outcome of these matters cannot be determined at this time,” reads the SEC filing by parent Southern Co.

The new Vogtle units will be powered by 1,100-MW Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactor technologies. The project is also the first new U.S. nuclear power plant construction in many years.

Then Toshiba-owned Westinghouse was the lead contractor on the massive construction project until its 2017 filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Bechtel was then hired as the lead engineering, procurement and construction firm. Work began in 2013.

Vogtle Units 1 and 2, which combine for 2,300 MW in carbon-free generating capacity, were completed in 1987 and 1989, respectively.

Nuclear energy currently powers close to 20 percent of the U.S. electricity capacity and more than half of its carbon-free generation, according to multiple reports.

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

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Nuclear projects will be part of the content delivered in the Lowering Carbon with Thermal Power conference workshop at POWERGEN International. POWERGEN 2020 is planned for December 8-10 in Orlando, Florida.