Concern of Costly Delay As Southern Co. Builds Twin Reactors

The two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta are scheduled for completion in 2016 and 2017.

But an unforeseen issue involving loose soil under the proposed site may cause a delay, which could translate to higher rates for Georgia Power customers.  

Due to the loose soil, Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, needs to pour far more concrete than expected to level out the reactor site. The change means the company must amend its construction license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Officials with Southern Co. and the NRC wouldn’t speculate about how long that process would take, but Jim Warren of NC WARN, an environmental watchdog, says the licensing process could take up to a year.

“These license amendments are not simple check-offs. They have to go through a formal process. There may be legal challenges.”

Pouring the concrete isn’t expected to start until mid-June. In case Southern’s request isn’t approved by then, the company is asking the NRC to approve a preliminary version of the request. That would allow Southern to move forward while the license is under review.

Company spokesman Steve Higginbottom says he doesn’t expect the soil issue to cause a costly delay.

“We don’t anticipate any impact on the schedule from that.”

Warren isn’t convinced. He says this is the first major evidence of a rushed licensing process.

“The foundation clearly caught them by surprise,” said Warren. “They clearly miscalculated and Southern Company is asking for a relaxing of the standards that govern the foundation and there are a lot of engineering implications for that, especially involving earthquake and safety systems.”

Right now, Georgia Power customers are expected to pay about $6 billion of the project’s $14 billion total cost.