Crucial test starts at Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear unit

Georgia Power said it has launched "the last series of major tests" before adding fuel to the first new reactor at Plant Vogtle south of Augusta. The nuclear power project has taken years longer than scheduled and cost billions of dollars more than planned. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Power said it has launched "the last series of major tests" before adding fuel to the first new reactor at Plant Vogtle south of Augusta. The nuclear power project has taken years longer than scheduled and cost billions of dollars more than planned. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia Power has launched a crucial series of tests at its first new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle, a project that has promised more carbon-free energy but has taken far longer and cost far more than the utility predicted.

The Atlanta-based utility, the largest electric provider in the state, had pushed back the test repeatedly, most recently in March. At the time, it acknowledged it will likely miss a November deadline for having the first of two new multibillion dollar reactors in operation.

The testing at the plant south of Augusta is expected to last six to eight weeks, the company said in a statement Monday.

During the tests, crews check the operation of the reactor’s parts and systems without nuclear fuel, working to reach normal operating pressure and temperature. Nuclear fuel load comes later, after the current testing is completed. The testing is considered a crucial hurdle to ensure the new reactor’s systems will work properly.

Reactors using the same basic design have gone into operation in recent years at nuclear power plants in China.

Last month, Georgia Power’s parent, Southern Company, cited the need for additional “remediation work” on the Vogtle construction project “to ensure quality and design standards are met.” It also said it was embarking on a broader review of the quality programs on the project.

The remediation work continues and some may be done after the current testing, according to an email Monday from a Georgia Power spokesman. The testing also may “identify other areas that need to be adjusted for long-term operations.”

The broader quality review announced last month found “inadequate enforcement of construction standards and behaviors related to electrical installations” and proposed fixes not only to the installations but to procedures and culture, the spokesman wrote.

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