Southern Expects First Nuclear Milestone After NRC Review

Southern Co. expects to pour the first “nuclear concrete” for its $14 billion atomic construction project in October, a milestone it can reach only if federal regulators condense into two months a license amendment review that normally takes about a year.

Southern, based in Atlanta, Georgia, told the Georgia Public Service Commission in a report today that it “has a high degree of confidence” the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will approve a change the company sought earlier earlier this year to its construction license at Plant Vogtle, 26 miles (42 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, Georgia.

“We expect to get the full amendment in time to fully support the pour of the first concrete,” Joseph “Buzz” Miller, Southern’s executive vice president for nuclear development, said in a phone interview today.

The license amendment, one of almost three dozen sought by Southern, would resolve a dispute over some of the nearly 450 tons of steel reinforcing bars Southern has laid in the building that will house the first of two nuclear reactors to be built at Vogtle.

Earlier generations of nuclear plants received operating licenses from federal regulators after they were constructed, a process that sometimes forced plant owners to rip apart completed structures. To avoid this, the atomic agency issued Southern a combined construction and operating license Feb. 9, the first nuclear construction license in more than 30 years.

Southern told Georgia regulators that it expects to bring Vogtle’s twin reactors online in November 2016 and November 2017, about seven months later than originally planned.

Final Schedule

Those dates may shift after Southern receives a final construction schedule from the contractors managing the project. The schedule has been held up as Southern and other plant owners negotiate with Westinghouse Electric Corp. and Shaw Group Inc. over responsibility for more than $900 million in costs after the NRC took six months longer than expected to approve the reactor’s design and issue the license.

Southern and its construction partners are suing each other over $29 million in disputed landfill costs and Miller said the larger cost dispute may also land in court if mediation fails.

“Adjudication is not necessarily a negative thing,” Miller said. “Claims and litigation, certainly for a project of this magnitude and tight contract, just is not going to be unusual.”

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