Vogtle project faces hurdles, nuclear engineer says

Southern Nuclear's plan to add two new reactors to Plant Vogtle could face delays and cost overruns associated with design and permitting issues, according to a state-appointed monitor.

In testimony before the Georgia Public Service Commission this week, nuclear engineer William Jacobs warned that unresolved design certification issues with the AP1000 reactors that will be used at the site are among several factors that could inflate costs and create construction delays.

The $14.8 billion project's schedule is based on the assumption the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will issue a combined operating license later this year, with construction commencing thereafter.

Units 3 and 4 would then go online in 2016 and 2017, according to Southern Nuclear.

"The company's position on the project schedule and budget is a possible outcome," Jacobs said. "However, given the extensive licensing, procurement, engineering and construction challenges that lay ahead, the first time nature of this project, and the experience to date with the consortium's inability to meet the project schedule, it is very possible that the project could come in over budget and potentially miss the commercial operation dates of April 1, 2016, and April 1, 2017, for Unit 3 and Unit 4, respectively."

Jacobs also noted that the projected date for issuing the combined operating license has slipped from November to December "and could easily slip into early 2012" in part because of issues involving the design of the reactors to be installed.

Delays in licensing, he said, would make it more of a challenge to keep the construction on schedule.

Jeff Wilson, a spokesman for Georgia Power Co., said company officials remain confident the project can proceed on schedule.

"In general, we have always held that we expect COL issuance by the end of 2011," he said. "The licensing process is proceeding at the NRC and we fully expect the issuance of a combined construction and operating license for Vogtle 3 and 4 by the end of this year."

The company is also working to manage any "cost pressures" that could affect the construction budget, he said, adding that the company will prepare and submit a formal rebuttal to the monitor's testimony.

Jacobs also noted most activities now under way at the site are "progressing well," including installation of earthen walls, water pipes and foundations.

"Overall, construction activities that are allowed under the Limited Work Authorization and not restricted due to other reasons such as late delivery of modules or stop work orders are progressing well," he said.