The completion of one of the two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle is delayed again, Georgia Power announced Friday afternoon.
The latest setback is due to a “degraded hydrogen seal” on the generator side of the unit — not the reactor where uranium atoms are split to produce heat.
Fixing the issue will push Unit 3′s expected in-service date back to July. Georgia Power’s most recent estimate was for the unit to enter service this month.
The problem was discovered in the final stages of startup testing, as engineers raised and lowered the power in the reactor to ensure it operates safely. Late last month, the reactor reached 100% power for the first time.
The required testing of the units is 95% complete, Georgia Power spokesman Jacob Hawkins said in a statement.
“Once all startup testing is successfully completed and the unit is available for safe, reliable dispatch, Vogtle Unit 3 will enter commercial operation,” Hawkins said.
It was not immediately clear how much the delay would affect the project’s total price tag, which has already climbed above $35 billion, more than double the company’s initial forecast. Both units were supposed to be complete in 2017 and are more than six years behind schedule.
Unit 3 and its twin, Unit 4, are the first new commercial nuclear reactors built from scratch in the U.S. in more than three decades. Unit 4 is expected to load fuel into its reactor in July and enter service late this year or in early 2024.
Once complete, each unit will produce enough electricity for 500,000 homes and businesses without contributing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
But their electricity will come at a steep cost to the company’s ratepayers
Georgia Power customers have already been paying for the reactors for years. By the end of this year, the average Georgia Power customer will have already paid about $913 in their monthly bills for Vogtle construction, witnesses have told state regulators at the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC).
As soon as Unit 3 comes online, Georgia Power estimates its customers will begin paying roughly $3.78 more on their monthly bills.
More of the project’s costs are likely to be passed onto ratepayers soon, with the exact amount to be determined by the PSC in hearings set to start after fuel is loaded into Unit 4.
Three other electricity providers own shares in the units. Georgia Power currently holds the largest stake with 45.7%, followed by Oglethorpe Power, which owns 30%. The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) owns 22.7% of the project, while Dalton Utilities has the smallest share with 1.6%.
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