Georgia Power customers and taxpayers have been helping foot the bill for the expansion project at Plant Vogtle, which is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
The state’s largest utility is building two new nuclear reactors at the facility south of Augusta. It's a massive project, the only nuclear power project under construction in the country, and it's been plagued by equally massive problems.
The Georgia Public Service Commission has been reviewing the status of the project this week after receiving a required update from Georgia Power.
That update shows each reactor is now an additional month behind schedule for completion though the in-service dates remain the same. The cost overruns have plateaued.
Steven Biegalski, the chair of Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and Medical Physics Program at Georgia Institute of Technology, stopped by On Second Thought to explain what's happening at Plant Vogtle.
On how the project started
There's lots of lessons learned here. First off, at the time of licensing ... the plans were not in final form. There were revisions that were made during the construction — A) to finalize, but also B) to adjust for different types of construction methods, etc. All these types of things could be assumed in a first build within the United States.
On why the cost of construction has skyrocketed
There are many things that were in play that just weren't in control. I will tell you that, within big engineering projects like this, overruns of both cost and schedule are not uncommon. That's not an excuse, but it is something that we recognize within engineering that does happen with such things.
On the future of Plant Vogtle
I do think that we're looking at on the order of one and a half to two more years to complete the project, and, at that point, hopefully we'll have the first unit up and operating. About a year later, the second unit would follow. From that we would start with initial operation, and hopefully up to 60 years’ worth of power production from those facilities.
On the safety of nuclear power in Georgia
Study after study has shown that nuclear power is the safest electrical production method that we currently have. There's no question about that. In addition, in a world where we're concerned with the carbon economy, nuclear power also is our biggest producer of carbon-free electricity.
On the possibility of smaller nuclear reactors in the future
I think largely what you're referring to would be more what is called the small modular reactors and where we're basically building things at one-tenth of the scale of particularly what Vogtle would be. I think a lot of the experts are heading in that direction
On the future of nuclear power in the United States
I do see expansion coming through much more advanced reactor designs. Currently, what's in place across the United States are reactor designs based on 50-year-old technology. We've come significantly [far] in the last half a century to understand safety of nuclear power plants.