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“It’s important to get this project done right because if every time we build a nuclear plant we go substantially over budget, ratepayers will begin to believe we can’t do a nuclear project on budget,” said Tim Echols, a nuclear power proponent who chairs Georgia’s Public Service Commission.

An earlier push to expand the reach of nuclear power in the 1970s was thwarted by a number of obstacles: Electric companies overestimated demand and designed plants they didn’t need. They had trouble managing massive construction workforces. Utilities designed nuclear plants as they built, leading to mistakes and slowdowns. Interest rates skyrocketed and the 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania forced plant operators to meet new rules at additional costs.

To win approval to build at Plant Vogtle, Southern Co. had to promise it would build its plant on budget, particularly as state officials remembered the massive cost overruns that occurred when it built the plant’s two existing reactors, said Robert Baker, a former utility regulator who has criticized the project.

The utility has been authorized to spend just over $6.1 billion as its share of the estimated $14 billion project, which was tracking under budget at the end of last year.

Southern Co. is about seven months behind schedule, mostly because of the federal approval process for the reactor, according to company executives and filings. Southern Co. also faced delays in getting an important license allowing it to start building the guts of the plant.

Another, less exotic problem at Vogtle: At one point, workers built metal bars straight rather than curved, as regulators had directed, so Southern Co. had to rip them out and replace them. Crews in South Carolina, watching the progress at Vogtle, have halted the construction of those bars.

Plant Vogtle’s designers and builders _ Westinghouse Electric Co. and The Shaw Group Inc. _ want Southern Co. to pay an additional $400 million for the licensing delays, according to a May report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power, which owns nearly half the new plant, denies responsibility for those costs and is negotiating on behalf of all the owners. Financial information divulged by three companies who own 98 percent of the project show $838 million in potential charges.

It is unclear how much this could cost the utility’s 2.4 million customers. Southern Co. earlier estimated typical residential customers would see a $10 increase in their monthly bills when both reactors are producing power in 2018. Utility regulators ultimately set the rates.

Similar issues have played out in central South Carolina, where SCANA Corp. and Santee Cooper won permission to build two reactors at Plant Summer, about 25 miles north of Columbia. SCANA agreed to pay $138 million in March to settle claims over licensing delays raised by the companies designing and building the reactor. Santee Cooper will pay nearly $113 million as its share of those costs, company officials said.

In May, SCANA asked utility regulators to raise its base spending on the project by $283 million, which includes the settlement related to licensing delays and extra costs for cyber security and staffing. However, the company said it will stay within its existing budget because it expects other expenses to be lower.

Supplying parts efficiently for the new reactors has also proved difficult. William Jacobs Jr., the state monitor hired by Georgia utility regulators, has publicly questioned whether a factory run by The Shaw Group can master quality control rules and deliver parts on time. NRC inspectors have faulted the facility for failing to maintain accurate records on the qualifications of workers. SCANA Corp. raised similar concerns.

Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann said the company has addressed the NRC’s concerns.

In Tennessee, internal reviews faulted the Tennessee Valley Authority for not providing enough oversight on the project and for allowing a culture to develop that discouraged the sharing of bad news, for example, site problems that led to delays. Not enough engineering work was finished before construction started, meaning construction workers sometimes did not have enough work to do.

In an embarrassing episode, the TVA temporarily stopped work at the site in January after two mishaps revealed safety problems. No one was injured, and the operating plant did not experience any problems. In one case, workers removed a cable connected to equipment in the working reactor. In another, they cut out valves before getting proper clearance and verifying the system was safe.

Changes have been made to bring the project under control, said Mike Skaggs, who became the authority’s senior vice president of nuclear construction in October. He said the TVA has carefully evaluated the remaining work on the reactor, slimmed down its workforce and made instructions to work crews easier to understand.

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