Sub-par concrete won’t add much to Vogtle list of woes

An aerial view of Plant Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 in January. SPECIAL/SOUTHERN CO.

In the midst of financial concerns and deadline pressures, construction crews at Plant Vogtle’s Units 3 and 4 have another new concern – substandard concrete.

 

Some employees Thursday said construction supervisors gathered some of the workers to make the announcement around mid-day. They said they were told that some of the concrete recently poured was not certified to nuclear construction standards.

Questions about the future of the two new reactors at Vogtle have swirled since its contracting company Westinghouse and its parent company Toshiba disclosed major financial loss due to the 2015 acquisition of an American nuclear construction company and increasing constructions costs at Vogtle and South Carolina’s VC Summer Plant.

Georgia Power, primary owner of Vogtle, has said that the company’s financial concerns will not impact Units 3 and 4. Westinghouse has also committed to finishing its current nuclear construction projects at Vogtle and VC Summer Plant but has pulled out of all other nuclear construction plans in the U.S.

Vogtle is not without its deadline pressures and shortfalls, though. The plant is already several years behind planned operational dates and just moved those in-service dates back several months for both Units 3 and 4.

In late February, Georgia Power’s parent Southern Company filed its annual report with the SEC. The report stated, “In addition to Toshiba’s reaffirmation of its commitment, the Contractor provided Georgia Power with revised forecasted in-service dates of December 2019 and September 2020 for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, respectively.”

While still within the same calendar years, the units’ operational dates were pushed back by several months each. That doesn’t directly account for the substandard concrete, but reports filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission said that costs to complete the project and get both units into operations are not forecast to change.

Georgia Power said the lower grade concrete was not a worrisome problem and wouldn’t be a factor in construction timeliness.

“The contractor at the Vogtle 3 and 4 sites self-identified that a concrete mix had been used in an area where a different mix was required to meet concrete specifications for that particular structure. These placements were of relatively low volume and in areas of the plant that are non-safety significant,” said Jacob Hawkins, Georgia Power spokesman.

He said Southern Nuclear, the company responsible for operations at Vogtle, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were notified of the situation.

“This issue will be evaluated and resolved through the normal corrective action process to ensure that the units are built safely, and as designed and licensed,” Hawkins said. “We are committed to ensuring that the Vogtle expansion is completed safely and correctly.”

An NRC spokesman said, “We are aware of the issue and we have not yet determined exactly how we would like them to handle the issue.”

He said the NRC will inspect the concrete and determine what actions may be needed. That could potentially mean the concrete would need to be redone or the contractor could submit a license amendment to show the NRC the concrete used is quality enough to stay.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706)823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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