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TheStreet Open House

Pressure On As Southern Co. Builds Nuclear Plant

The site swirls with activity, hosting more than 2,000 workers in rural Waynesboro. On Tuesday, craft laborers were welding together massive pieces of what will become a giant steel case containing the guts of the first new reactor. In a major step, the metal vessel that will hold the hot, radioactive nuclear fuel was being transported to the construction site. One of the world's largest lift derricks, essentially a 560-foot crane, will hoist massive, pre-fabricated parts of the reactor into place.

That first reactor was supposed to be finished in April 2016, followed by the second reactor a year later. While the company has not formally changed those dates, it said completion of the first reactor has been pushed to November 2016. Under questioning, an executive said the timeline might stretch to early-to-mid 2017. Now a state monitor reports that first reactor will be finished no earlier than June 2017. He estimated the cost of a one-year delay as in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Robert Baker, a former utility regulator, said he planned to ask Georgia's Public Service Commission to adopt a plan that would trim the utility's profits if the project comes in over budget. Because the monopoly is guaranteed a profit on every dollar it spends, Baker said it has a disincentive to control costs.

"There is now no way that this project can come in on-budget and on-time as has been stated repeatedly," he said.

Several issues account for the delays. Southern Co. received its license to build from federal regulators months later than expected. The companies building the plant still have not agreed on an updated start-to-finish schedule.

Metal bars that will become part of the plant foundation were not installed exactly as required in plans, an error uncovered by federal inspectors. That required extra time and fixes. The Shaw Group Inc. in Lake Charles, La., experienced difficulty meeting stringent documentation and other quality rules required in the nuclear industry as it built parts for the facility.

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