First new US nuclear reactors in 30 years hit by another six-month delay

By Breanne Deppisch, Washington Examiner —

Southern Co., the electric utility overseeing the expansion of Georgia’s Plant Vogtle nuclear facility, announced another delay to the project on Thursday, the latest in a series of costly and frustrating blows that officials chalked up, at least in part, to paperwork.

The new delay pushed back start dates for two new nuclear reactors for up to six months, officials said, meaning the first new reactor is now slated to come between December 2022 and March 2023. The second is expected to come online roughly six months after that, sometime in late 2023.

Asked Thursday what pushed the project further behind, Southern CFO Dan Tucker told reporters that “inadequate documentation” of construction activities is partially to blame.

“The cost and schedule are a function of the time and resources needed to go and remediate that paperwork,” Tucker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southern Co. delivered the news Thursday alongside its annual earnings report. Officials said the company took a further $920 million loss on the reactors and warned it could have to write off another $460 million depending on how a dispute with Vogtle co-owners turns out.

Southern Co. said it lost $215 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 while netting a profit of $2.39 billion for the year.

The Vogtle reactors are the first new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States in some 30 years. But since 2013, when construction on the reactors first began, the project has faced a string of new, costly setbacks, putting the utility company billions over budget and months, if not years, behind its original schedule.

Now, some fear that the long delays and high price tags at Vogtle could deter other utilities from building similar facilities of their own despite the fact that nuclear plants generate electricity without releasing climate-changing carbon emissions.

Tucker said Southern hopes to build on its experience from the first new reactor next year in order to get the second new one online more quickly.

“We are seeing tangible evidence that those lessons learned are paying off,” Tucker said.

Liz Coyle, director of the Georgia Watch consumer advocacy group, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the new developments were “very bad news” but “not a surprise.”

“Expert witnesses hired by the [Public Service] Commission to monitor the project already predicted these additional delays and cost overruns,” Coyle said. “We absolutely do not think Georgia Power’s captive ratepayers should have to bear the burden of these massive cost overruns.”

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