Georgia’s Vogtle nuclear project delayed again; testing shows problems

Georgia Power said it faces still more delays as it leads a nuclear expansion project at the Plant Vogtle south of Augusta. It now anticipates the first of two new nuclear reactors won't be in operation until the first three months of next year. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Georgia Power said it faces still more delays as it leads a nuclear expansion project at the Plant Vogtle south of Augusta. It now anticipates the first of two new nuclear reactors won't be in operation until the first three months of next year. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A crucial round of testing on Georgia Power’s nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle has uncovered problems, once again delaying the multibillion-dollar project, company officials told state regulators Tuesday.

Executives with Georgia Power and sister company Southern Nuclear Operating Co. told the Georgia Public Service Commission that they now expect the first of two new reactors to go into operation sometime during the first three months of 2022. Only a few weeks ago, the timeline was pushed back from November to late December.

The first new reactor was originally slated to be in operation in the spring of 2016, followed by a second new reactor a year later. But the project has been bedeviled by problems that have added billions of dollars in costs beyond what Georgia Power originally told regulators to expect.

There are concerns about whether most of the extra expenses, which continue to grow with each delay, will be pushed onto customers of Georgia Power and other utilities around the state that partnered on the project.

Crews at Vogtle are in the midst of conducting a crucial round of testing to check the reactor’s parts and systems before nuclear fuel is in place.

While a company spokesperson said Wednesday that the issues found so far during testing “are not unexpected,” officials testified that they need to extend testing about three weeks longer than initially planned.

In a late April call with analysts, Southern CEO Tom Fanning had cautioned that there could be delays. But he also said, “I think we have resolved the delays, and we think we have a clearer path.”

The project is expected to provide more carbon-free energy for decades to come. The second of the new reactors is currently slated to be in operation in November 2022.

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