Overcoming delays, hot functional testing on Vogtle nuclear Unit 3 progressing successfully

rendering Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
Rendering Vogtle Units 3 and 4, courtesy of Georgia Power

Southern Co. and Georgia Power’s Vogtle Unit 3 construction project, hit by myriad complications over the years, achieved an important successful testing run on its way to anticipated commissioning in 2022.

Project leader Georgia Power said that Vogtle Unit 3 plant systems reached normal operating pressure and temperature during hot functional testing. This testing started two months ago and will continue for the next several weeks.

The hot functional testing is the last series of major tests for Unit 3 ahead of fuel load. The $27 billion project is building two new units 3 and 4 which would add more than 2 GW of carbon-free generating capacity and be the first new nuclear reactor units commissioned in nearly a decade.

Hot functional testing is conducted to verify the successful operation of reactor components and systems together and confirm the reactor is ready for fuel load. As part of the testing, the site team is currently running Unit 3 plant systems at normal operating pressure and temperature without nuclear fuel.

Nuclear operators are using the heat generated by the unit’s four reactor coolant pumps to sustain the temperature and pressure of plant systems at normal operating levels, and the unit’s main turbine will be raised to normal operating speed using steam from the plant. Operators are also able to exercise and validate procedures as required ahead of fuel load.

The Vogtle 3 and 4 expansion is led by parent Southern’s Nuclear division and utility Georgia Power, with Oglethorpe Power, Dalton Utilities and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia as partners. Vogtle has ensured numerous delays and overruns, including the bankruptcy of original contractor and reactor supplier Westinghouse.

Engineering and construction firm Bechtel took lead duties on the work two years ago. In the meantime, Georgia Power and other utilities reaffirmed their commitment to the project despite some calls for abandoning it.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has launched a special inspection at the Vogtle Unit 3 site. The NRC will try to identify what has led to construction remediation work for the electrical cable raceway system at Unit 3.

Southern Co. Nuclear, Georgia Power and its partners are overseeing construction to add the two units into operation by late 2022. Unit 3, despite numerous delays and cost overruns, was originally planned to be commissioned later this year, but the companies have announced the start date is likely into next year.

Once commercially operational, Vogtle 3 and 4 will be the first new nuclear reactors commissioned in the U.S. since TVA’s Watts Bar Unit 2 in 2016, which itself was the first in about three decades.

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