U.S. nuclear regulators scrutinize Vogtle problems in Georgia

‘Special inspection’ first in more than a decade of construction

U.S. nuclear regulators have launched an extra review into problems with the installation of crucial electrical cable systems at the Plant Vogtle expansion and how Southern Company responded to those issues.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its regional team this week began a special inspection, the first of its kind in more than a decade of construction on the Georgia project.

It comes as two of Southern’s subsidiaries, Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear, were supposed to be within months of finishing the first of two new reactors. The project is already years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in an email, “We conduct a special inspection when something out of the ordinary and significant occurs where the agency wants to ensure there’s a full understanding of the issue.”

The special inspection is an expansion beyond the NRC’s routine inspections.

It will look into “what has led to construction remediation work for the electrical cable raceway system” on the first new reactor. The system is “designed to prevent a single event from disabling redundant safety-related equipment.”

The review will delve into what actions were taken by Southern Nuclear after problems were found, the quality assurance process and “any potential implications” for a second reactor under construction, the NRC said. The review is expected to last two weeks and include a public report within 45 days of completion.

A Georgia Power spokesman emailed that,Southern Nuclear welcomes NRC’s inspection of its construction activities and will be engaged in NRC’s inspection process.”

The spokesman reasserted project timelines announced recently, including the first new reactor going into operation in the first three months of next year, rather than this coming November. Advisers for Georgia regulators have predicted the unit won’t be in operation until at least the summer of 2022, a conclusion that was made prior to the NRC’s new inspection.

In March, Atlanta-based Southern Company, disclosed that it had begun corrective steps and a broader review tied to quality on the project south of Augusta.

Georgia regulatory staffers and independent monitors have highlighted numerous recent issues on the Vogtle work, including violations of codes that require minimum separation of high voltage cables to eliminate the risk of sparking a fire.