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One of world's largest cranes helps assemble Plant Vogtle nuclear reactors

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SHELL BLUFF, Ga. – After eight months of assembly, one of the world’s largest cranes is being tested this week at the site of Plant Vogtle’s two new reactors.

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A heavy lift derrick, one of the largest cranes in the world, was constructed at Plant Vogtle to hoist reactor vessel components into place.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
A heavy lift derrick, one of the largest cranes in the world, was constructed at Plant Vogtle to hoist reactor vessel components into place.

“It can rotate 360 degrees, to serve both Unit 3 and Unit 4,” said David Clem, Southern Nuclear’s construction oversight director.

The crane, or “heavy lift derrick,” has a main boom that juts 560 feet into the air and is rigged with 12 miles of steel cable. Operating the machine requires a five-person crew.

Tests involve lifting loads totaling 1,500 tons at 300 feet of reach, Clem said.

The Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built in Burke County are the first in the U.S. to utilize a design that involves assembling large, prefabricated sections.

At Vogtle, some of those components are assembled in a specialized building a few hundred yards from the “nuclear islands” that will house the reactors and containment vessels.

The heaviest items will be moved along a strengthened “heavy haul road” from their point of assembly to the reactor sites, then lifted into place by the giant crane.

Although the equipment is being tested at 1,500 tons, the components to be lifted will likely top out at about 1,300 tons, Clem said.

The $14 billion project is one of two expansions that were licensed this year by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A similar expansion is under way at SCANA’s V.C. Summer Nuclear Plant in South Carolina, where an identical crane has been assembled for use in that project.

Unit 3 is scheduled to go online in 2016, and Unit 4 will follow in 2017, according to company officials.

Coming this weekend

Plant Vogtle’s $14 billion expansion — which includes the first new commercial reactors built in the U.S. in decades — has accelerated rapidly since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved final permits in February.


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