"These parts are being shipped to the port of Savannah -- spending four weeks at sea," said David Jones, Southern Nuclear's site vice president for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
The parts, which began arriving by flatbed truck Tuesday, include 58 massive steel plates that -- once assembled -- will form the bottom head of Unit 3's containment vessel.
Jones said that each reactor containment vessel will include five major sections -- each formed by welding together a series of steel plates.
Although the plates can be welded together into sections at the Burke County site, the assembled components cannot be placed into the reactor power block area until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorizes formal construction of the reactors by issuing a "combined operating license," Jones said.
The license could be issued in late 2011.
"We expect to receive the COL well in advance of having all 10 of these sections assembled," he said. "The steam generators and other pieces will be here in the 2012 and 2013 time frame, but the reason for these plates coming this early is for the assembly required once they are on the site."
Chicago Bridge & Iron, a Westinghouse subcontractor, will be welding the pieces together with the aid of a unique crane that Jones said will be the largest in the world, based on opinions from the crane industry.
The 650-ton crane, to be assembled on-site, will have an extended boom almost 500 feet long with a vertical, 300-foot extension. It will be anchored with 22.5-foot-long steel bolts in a base made with 3,000 cubic yards of concrete, giving it a lifting capacity of more than 1,000 tons, Jones said.
Vogtle Units 3 and 4, currently in line to become the first new nuclear power reactors to be built in the United States in decades, are scheduled to go online in 2016 and 2017 at a cost estimated at $14.5 billion.