On July 31, roughly seven years later than expected, utility Georgia Power and contractor Bechtel celebrated bringing into commercial operation the first new nuclear plant in the U.S. in more than 30 years. The milestone achievement has been a long time coming.

Construction of Plant Vogtle's Unit 3—and, soon after, Unit 4—began in fall 2009, with completion set at that time for 2016 and 2017, respectively. Continual delays would inflate the original $14-billion cost figure to roughly $21.4 billion, according to the latest estimates made by state construction monitors.

In achieving the milestone, Georgia Power had to overcome numerous challenges, including the bankruptcy of its original contractor, Westinghouse Electric Co., and financial anxieties among the project's utility co-owners over escalating costs.

Kim Greene, Georgia Power chairman, president and CEO, alluded to the challenges in a statement, saying “It is important that we make these kinds of long-term investments and see them through so we can continue providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy to our 2.7 million customers."

Greene added that the "achievement is a testament to our commitment to doing just that, and it marks the first day of the next 60 to 80 years that Vogtle Unit 3 will serve our customers.”

Brendan Bechtel, chairman and CEO of contractor Bechtel—which was hired in 2017 to finish the project—said, “We are extremely proud of Bechtel’s part in achieving this milestone. Today’s start of commercial operations for Vogtle Unit 3 gives the Southeast a major new source of clean, reliable, carbon-free baseload energy."


Delays Continue

But schedule slippages, occurring since the project's earliest stages, have continued throughout. In testimony provided in January, state construction monitors agreed with the estimate of project owner Southern Nuclear Co. that Unit 3 would reach commercial operation by March 31, 2023, calling it a "reasonable forecast."

As it turns out, estimates were overly optimistic.

Instead, according to testimony of construction monitor William Jacobs, from mid-March through June of this year, issues with the plant's startup process pushed back commercial operation to July 31.

"Unit 3 startup has been characterized by a significant number of turbine and reactor trips due to wiring errors, designs not installed, turbine control valve issues and failure to remove shipping flanges," noted the report. "This large number of avoidable plant trips represents less-than-expected performance during startup testing."

While the utility's report to state monitors cited December 2023 for Unit 4's start of commercial operations, Georgia Power's July 31 press release included some wiggle room, projecting the plant to be placed in service "during the late fourth quarter 2023 or the first quarter of 2024."

In projecting their forecast of first quarter 2024 as Unit 4's likely commercial start date, construction monitors noted that at the May 25 monthly project review meeting, Southern Nuclear Co. "indicated that the Unit 4 COD could slip an additional three months to March 31, 2024."