ATLANTA — Nuclear power regulators on Thursday affirmed giving greater scrutiny to two nuclear reactors being built at Georgia Power Co.'s Plant Vogtle after a special inspection found electrical cables were not properly separated.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it had finalized its findings after declining a request to downgrade them by Southern Nuclear Co., the unit of Atlanta-based Southern Co. in charge of building the reactors. Southern Nuclear could still appeal.
The special inspection lines up with what independent monitors hired by Georgia utility regulators have long said: Contractors and Southern have done sloppy work while rushing to meet unachievable deadlines, forcing work to be redone.
Regional Administrator Laura Dudes wrote Wednesday that the commission will schedule a supplemental inspection of the reactors near Augusta to make sure the causes and the extent of the problems are understood and to make sure corrective actions address those root causes and keep the problem from happening again. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will make the inspection after Southern Nuclear says it is ready.
Southern had asked that two separate violations be combined into one, which could have reduced the commission's view of the problem's severity. Inspectors classified their findings on the electrical cables as having a "white" or "low to moderate" significance, one level above the lowest level of green.
John Kraft, a spokesperson for Georgia Power, another Southern Co. subsidiary, wrote in a statement that the company is working with the commission and "fully recognizes the importance of the issues."
"Corrective actions have been and continue to be implemented by Southern Nuclear that will correct all of the issues identified," Kraft wrote.
Dudes wrote that the commission is satisfied with Southern's answers about what happened and how it's fixing problems and that the company doesn't have to respond further unless something changes.
The findings came after a special inspection in June. The electrical cabling systems are supposed to be designed to keep a single problem from knocking out safety equipment.
The commission says it won't let Southern Nuclear load radioactive fuel at the plant until it has met all standards.
Georgia Power owns 45.7% project, whose costs are projected to surpass $28.5 billion overall, not counting $3.68 billion that original contractor Westinghouse paid back to the owners after going bankrupt.
Other owners include most Georgia electric cooperatives and municipal utilities. Florida's Jacksonville Electric Authority and some other municipal utilities and cooperatives in Florida and Alabama also are obligated to buy power from the plant.
Georgia Power projects Unit 3 will start generating electricity in the third quarter of 2022. Unit 4 is now projected to enter service sometime between April and June of 2023.
The commission launched the review after Southern Nuclear reported about 600 instances in which work didn't meet requirements for cable separation. Inspectors found Southern Nuclear didn't adequately separate cables for reactor coolant pumps and equipment designed to safely shut down the reactor.
The reactors, approved in 2012, were initially estimated to cost $14 billion, with the first new reactor originally planned to start generation in 2016.