|Vogtle Unit 3
One of two newly constructed nuclear-power units at Southern Company's Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia, has failed again during pre-operational testing, according to a report today at DonaldWatkins.com. Watkins, a longtime Alabama attorney, entrepreneur, and civil-rights advocate, has become a leading voice in online journalism about the accounting-fraud and racketeering scandals swirling around Southern Company.
Under the headline "Testing at Southern Company’s Flawed Vogtle Nuclear Power Unit Fails, Again!" Watkins writes:
Yesterday, the Atlanta-based Southern Company filed a Form 8-K with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announcing that its long-planned, chronically flawed, newly constructed Unit 3 nuclear power plant at the company’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Waynesboro, Georgia, has failed again during pre-operational testing.
According to the 8-K,
“On June 16, 2023, Georgia Power Company (“Georgia Power”) announced that during the start-up and pre-operational testing for Plant Vogtle Unit 3, Southern Nuclear Operating Company, Inc. identified, and is in the process of remediating, a degraded hydrogen seal in the main generator and has started the planned maintenance outage. Considering this remediation and the remaining pre-operational testing, Georgia Power now projects that the Unit 3 in-service date will occur in July 2023.
[T]he projected schedule for Unit 3 primarily depends on the continued progression of pre-operational testing and start-up, which may be impacted by further equipment, component, and/or other operational challenges.
Ongoing or future challenges also include management of contractors and vendors and/or related cost escalation. As testing continues, new challenges also may continue to be identified, which may result in required engineering changes or remediation related to plant systems, structures, or components (some of which are based on new technology that only within the last few years began initial operation in the global nuclear industry at this scale). These challenges may result in further schedule delays and/or cost increases.”
Watkins translates that regulatory lingo into everyday English:
In street language, the company's Form 8-K alerts the public that (a) the hydrogen seals on Unit 3 are defective and must be replaced, and (b) as pre-operational testing continues, new flaws in the plant’s operating systems, structures, and major equipment and component packages may be discovered and they may require engineering changes and remediation.
If Unit 3 were a new car that was sold in Georgia, it would be declared a "lemon" and would be covered by Georgia's Lemon Law. In the world of cars, a "lemon" is synonymous with broken, flawed, and defective vehicles. They must be replaced or repurchased by the manufacturer.
This becomes particularly concerning when you consider that Unit 3 failed earlier this year in January, due to vibrations during testing. A lemon vehicle is one thing; a lemon nuclear-power unit is something else. Watkins calls Vogtle a "Nuclear Radiation and Contamination Deathtrap":
Vogtle Units 3 and 4 (which is a replica of Unit 3) are nuclear radiation and contamination deathtraps that range in scale for a potential disaster from the Three Mile Island Level 5 meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979, to the Chernobyl Level 7 nuclear disaster in the old Soviet Union in 1986 and the Fukushima Level 7 nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
The construction of Units 3 and 4 was first announced on September 8, 1971. The Southern Company's application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to design, build, own, and operate Units 3 and 4 was submitted on February 13, 1973. Construction permits for the units were first issued on June 28, 1974.
For financial and political reasons, the Southern Company's plan to build Units 3 and 4 was scrapped for the next 32 years.
In 2006, the Southern Company announced its intent to build Units 3 and 4. Licenses to own and operate Units 3 and 4 were issued by the NRC on February 10, 2012.
Today, the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 is seven years behind schedule due to: (a) a endless series of construction delays, (b) a multitude of outdated design and engineering flaws, (c) shoddy workmanship that is pervasive throughout Units 3 and 4, (d) inadequate inspections by Southern Nuclear Operating Company, federal and state regulators, and other interested parties, and (e) substandard remediation work.
In January, both Bechtel, an engineering, procurement, and construction firm hired by the Southern Company in 2017, and Southern Nuclear Operating Company, the licensed operator and construction-management firm for Vogtle Units 3 and 4, missed the engineering checkoff during construction for the installation of the structural support systems required to prevent Unit 3 from vibrating during start-up testing and commercial operations.
This costly mistake is analogous to installing a motor in a new car without installing proper motor mounts to keep the motor from vibrating and tearing loose from the car frame over time.
The design and engineering flaws, shoddy workmanship, and remediation work at Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have resulted in $21 billion in cost overruns for these two construction projects, which were originally budgeted at $14 billion. Today, the total cost of the two Vogtle units is estimated at $31 billion.
Political, regulatory, and industrial insiders have followed the Vogtle project closely, and the thought of Unit 3 vibrating during start-up testing must have caused an outbreak of sweaty palms. Writes Watkins:
Based upon industry reports, Units 3 and 4 have the highest pre-operational testing failure rates among the nation’s 92 nuclear power plants. These failure rates are the product of:
A culture of production over quality;
A culture of poor inspecting or non-inspecting of work;
High personnel turnover and absenteeism;
Significant work backlogs;
High first-time component testing failure rates; and,
Need for extensive rework and retesting.
Construction and design gaffes are not the only issues plaguing Vogtle; political gamesmanship also is a major factor, reports Watkins:
In my June 4, 2023, article titled, “Politics Trumps Public Safety: The Southern Company’s Making of a Nuclear Disaster at Vogtle,” I identified the many conflicts of interest and influence peddling schemes that undermine the safety and soundness of Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle.
In 2022, the Southern Company raked in $59 billion in utility-customer money. The company and its political allies redirect a big chunk of this money to: (a) the National Democratic Party, (b) political action committees that support President Joe Biden, (c) Georgia’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, (d) GOP members of the Georgia Public Service Commission, and (d) a host of state and federal lawmakers from both political parties.
This river of customer cash has caused nearly everybody who is in a position of authority to protect the environment and promote public safety at Vogtle to look the other way.
The Southern Company is listed in the Top 10 utility companies that donated the most “dark money” to friendly regulators and greedy politicians between 2014 and 2020. The company acknowledges funneling at least $8.4 million to politicians and utility regulators during this period, according to an article published by the Guardian on June 15, 2023.
The actual amount of “dark money” that was laundered through 501(c)(4) non-profits to line the pockets of regulators and politicians during this six-year period is incalculable. This is particularly true in light of the fact that the "dark money" was often funneled through Southern Company vendors who, in turn, made the necessary "donations."
The Southern Company’s free flow of cash to greedy politicians has cleared the way for the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Georgia Public Service Commission, and the NRC to (a) ignore the warning of nuclear safety defects at Vogtle and (b) allow the Southern Company to self-certify the safety of Units 3 and 4.
Influence peddling in Washington by Southern Company board members Ernest J. Moniz (a former Secretary of Energy), Kristine L. Svinicki (a former Commissioner and Chairwoman of the NRC), Colette D. Honorable (a former FERC commissioner), and Dale E. Klein (a former NRC Commissioner) serves as icing on the cake.
Even the mainstream press has been co-opted along the way, helping to ensure that the public largely is in the dark about the severity of problems at Vogtle. Watkins writes:
The Southern Company’s Washington, D.C. office has successfully coordinated public-relations initiatives that completely co-opt and shut down negative investigative news stories that were developed for publication by Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal. These Southern Company “catch and kill” initiatives occurred in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
The Southern Company’s “catch and kill” of a Wall Street Journal investigative story was proudly celebrated by the board of directors during a dinner at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last month.
This effective approach to managing media content from New York-based news organizations is an extension of the Southern Company's “capture and control” program that began at its Alabama Power affiliate in 2017. National Public Radio (NPR) “outed” this creative program in a December 19, 2022, article titled, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.”
On December 21, 2022, NPR published an article that described how Southern Company operatives used an ABC News producer to spy on former Southern Company CEO Thomas A. Fanning’s girlfriend (Kim Tanaka) from 2017 to September 21, 2022. The NPR article, titled “She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative,” exposed the undercover spying activities of ABC News producer Kristen Hentschel.
In short, a lot of underhanded efforts -- on multiple fronts -- have gone into allowing Southern Company to move forward at Vogtle, putting profitability and sketchy work product over public safety:
Except for the Southern Company and its Georgia Power and Southern Nuclear Operating Company affiliates, no capable and qualified nuclear-power experts are independently vouching for the safety and soundness of Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle.
Additionally, no government entity has studied the health risks of bringing Units 3 and 4 online for commercial service. The last available study of these risks was published on June 20, 2007, by an environmental protection group named Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (www.bredl.org.)
From the time Vogtle nuclear power Units 1 and 2 began commercial operations in 1989 to the date of the Blue Ridge report in 2007, average radioactivity levels in drinking water, river water, and sediment downriver or at the Vogtle plant skyrocketed as high as 44.6%.
During the same periods, the cancer death rate for children and adolescents in the 11 counties closest to Vogtle rose 58.5%, compared to a 14.1% decline nationally. The death rate in Burke County GA (where Vogtle is located) rose sharply for all cancers, especially for blacks and for children and young/middle age adults, while U.S. rates declined
The government agencies that are charged by law with protecting the environment around Vogtle and preventing a catastrophic nuclear disaster at Vogtle have been effectively anesthetized by the flow of the Southern Company’s "dark money" in Washington and Georgia.
It appears that the federal and state regulatory agencies involved with the Vogtle projects have bought into the Southern Company’s “fake it ‘til you make it” profitability program. At this juncture, these agencies seems to be focused on delivering regulatory approvals that have more to do with propping the Southern Company’s stock prices and appeasing the Joe Biden administration than providing and promoting public safety at Vogtle.
This is a grim picture, and it likely will only get worse if Units 3 and 4 actually go into operation. Watkins writes:
Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are outdated, fatally flawed, "lemon" nuclear-power projects.
Medical experts expect a lot of people within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle to get sick and die from radiation poisoning when the highly likely nuclear disaster occurs at the fatally flawed nuclear power Units 3 and 4.
More than 350,000 people had to be permanently resettled after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Experts expect that at least 500,000 people living in 11 counties within the 40-mile radius of the Vogtle contamination area will have to be permanently resettled.
Of course, the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta Georgia will have to be played somewhere else, as the residents of Augusta will have to be resettled.
At this juncture, our best hope as a nation is that the Southern Company corporate executives and federal and state government officials who could have prevented the likely nuclear disaster at Vogtle will be around to get prosecuted for second-degree murder, reckless endangerment by radiation poisoning and contamination, and the willful destruction of private property within the contaminated area.