Just over a week ago we reported that all five reactors now under construction in the U.S. are experiencing delays and cost overruns. At a hearing Tuesday before the Georgia Public Service Commission on construction of Southern Company’s two Vogtle reactors, the Commission’s own experts “reiterated concerns about struggles for the project south of Augusta. Georgia Power customers are already paying for financing of the expansion on their monthly power bills and one expert has said any additional delay could cost the company $2 million a day. Those costs could be picked up by ratepayers.”
The big news of the day–and news that indicates further delays are likely–was that Southern Company’s Georgia Power division has switched suppliers for some of the very large components of the reactors. The company had chosen a modular approach for construction, which it had hoped would result in lower costs and speedier construction. But the company it chose, CB&I, has been both behind schedule and unable to meet quality control standards.
“A factory owned by CB&I in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was producing large structural modules, some weighting tens of tons, that could be picked up by a crane and hoisted into place. The technique was supposed to be faster and cheaper than building a plant part-by-part at the construction site.
“However, the CB&I facility has struggled to produce the modules while meeting the detailed quality control rules required for the nuclear industry. Jacobs [William Jacobs, a nuclear engineer hired by the PSC] wrote in a recent report that the factory was ‘not prepared for the rigor of nuclear construction.’
“‘Certainly there have been problems at Lake Charles getting the modules, so I guess it’s not totally surprising that the consortium would go ahead and look around,’ Jacobs said during a hearing at Georgia’s Public Service Commission. CB&I spokeswoman Gentry Brann declined to comment, referring questions back to Georgia Power.”
Switching giant manufacturing facilities in the middle of a project is not likely to speed things up–the new companies have to gear up to be able to produce components that large, and there is no guarantee they’ll do any better of a job than CB&I. The issue may be the first-of-a-kind modular approach Georgia Power adopted is more difficult to accomplish than the utility believed. Not that manufacturing incompetence can be simply dismissed as a cause of the problems…
But don’t expect the Georgia PSC to actually step in and do anything about the escalating costs and schedule delays, at least not while there are PSC Commissioners like Lauren W. “Bubba” McDonald, Jr. in office. Yes, “Bubba.”
Bubba told the Kiwanis Club of Gainesville, Georgia recently that he’s all for nuclear power and the Vogtle reactors, “It’s going to be the saving grace for Georgia,” McDonald said. “It’s clean, it’s safe and it’s cheap.”
That “cheap” part looks like it’s going to come back and bite Bubba in the you-know-where. But until then, Georgia ratepayers, under the state’s antiquated law that forces them to pay for the reactors in advance–whether or not they ever generate any electricity at all, much less affordable electricity–will be the ones who suffer.
In last week’s article cited above, we noted a study filed by the project’s construction monitors casting doubt on Georgia Power’s cost and schedule estimates, but we did not have a link for it. It can be found here.
July 3, 2014
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