$14 billion Plant Vogtle gets green light for reactors

Upper section of Vogtle Unit 3 containment vessel lower head, fastened to assembly and welding stand. Courtesy Southern Company, all rights reserved

NRC approves first licenses since 1978

THE NUCLEAR REGULATORY Commission (NRC) on Feb. 9 approved the first licenses to build nuclear reactors in the United States in more than 30 years – and much of the skilled labor involved will go to union Boilermakers.

The $14 billion project will add two new 1,100 Mw Westinghouse AP1000 reactors (units 3 and 4) at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant (Plant Vogtle) in eastern Georgia. The plant’s existing reactors (units 1 and 2), which produce 1,200 Mw of electricity each, began operating in the late 1980s.

A consortium of utilities led by Atlanta-based Southern Company owns the facility.

Local 26 (Savannah, Ga.) has jurisdiction for the project, which has also drawn traveling members from across the country. “We have about 130 Boilermakers on the project right now,” said L-26 BM-ST Jeffrey Hughes. “We’ll be working on this for the next five years and should have 200-300 members employed at the project’s peak.”

John Fultz, Assistant Director for Construction Sector Operations, said Boilermakers began working at the site in July of 2010 on unit 3. “This is Boilermaker work,” he said. “And it requires Boilermaker skills in rigging and welding.” He estimated that 100,000 man-hours have been worked to date without any OSHA recordables or lost-time accidents.

Hughes said about 70 Boilermakers now on the job are employed by the Shaw Group (the prime contractor), erecting the modular assembly building (MAB) for unit 3; another 60 are employed by Chicago Bridge & Iron constructing the containment vessel for the new unit. According to Hughes, some of the MAB sections will be 70-feet tall. After they are erected, they will be rolled into place. The containment vessel will also be rigged and moved into its final position. Boilermakers will also perform foundation work for the steam generators and reactors.

Hughes described the project as “a stepping stone for the next 20 to 30 years.” He added, “It is an opportunity to set the standard for the future.”

Southern CEO Thomas Fanning said of the NCR licensing approval, “This is a monumental accomplishment for Southern Company, Georgia Power, our partners, and the nuclear industry. “The project is on track, and our targets related to cost and schedule are achievable.”

Part of the financing arrangement for the Vogtle project is $8.3 billion in Department of Energy loan guarantees, first announced by President Obama on Feb. 16, 2010. Such guarantees were authorized under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to “avoid, reduce, or sequester” greenhouse gas emissions.