Virus surge adds to Vogtle woes

Georgia Power expects to meet new expansion deadline

The massive nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle is facing more productivity problems and a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases among workers, according to Georgia Power.

The number of confirmed positive cases at the project has doubled since Oct. 1, with more than 1,000 additional workers hit, the company said Thursday.

Atlanta-based Georgia Power said it still expects to meet its latest deadline for putting the two new nuclear units in commercial operation, the first in November. But the state’s largest utility also said this week it expects to again adjust its schedule for completing crucial interim milestones on the project, such as loading nuclear fuel.

It already has pushed back the milestones timetable multiple times, including twice in the last six months.

Delays in those steps make it harder to finish the project by its latest deadline. If the full project takes longer to complete, costs are expected to rise, increasing pressure for customers to pay more for a project that has already gone billions of dollars over budget and fallen years behind schedule.

Even before the pandemic struck, independent monitors for the state warned the company was falling further behind on the work south of Augusta.

In its latest press release, Georgia Power cited “other productivity challenges” in addition to the rise in COVID-19 cases, but didn’t describe what those latest challenges are. Combined with the COVID-19 cases, they continue to “impact construction production and the pace of testing activity completion,” the company stated.

It said its project team is analyzing its schedule and its parent, Southern Company, will provide updates next month.

Georgia Power said it enacted extra safety measures early in the pandemic to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Union officials praised the company’s actions. The company cut nearly 2,000 of the 9,000 workers on site in the spring, speeding up some planned departures, in hopes of increasing social distancing.