- Associated Press - Monday, June 23, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - The companies building one of the first U.S. nuclear plants in a generation have missed project deadlines, and government monitors questioned in reports released Monday whether those delays could grow.

Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power and its partners are building two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle (VOH’-gohl) southeast of Augusta using a first-of-its-kind technology. The construction project was originally estimated to cost $14 billion, but the final price tag is likely to rise.

The plant in Georgia and an identical facility under construction in South Carolina are widely viewed as tests of whether the nuclear industry can build new power plants without the big delays and cost overruns common decades ago. Total project costs could jump $2 million every day there is a delay, according to estimates released by state analysts.

Utility customers ultimately pay those costs unless regulators intervene. Still, state analysts project that finishing Plant Vogtle is a better financial deal for the public than stopping and instead building gas-fired power plants.

Georgia Power initially projected the first of the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle would be operational in April 2016, but that deadline later slipped to late 2017 or very early in January 2018. The second reactor is supposed to be complete in late 2018.

Nuclear engineer William Jacobs Jr. and Public Service Commission analyst Steven Roetger said in their report that the companies involved in the project face “many challenges” trying to meet those deadlines.

The latest schedule from the builder only presents detailed steps through December 2015, the report said. That incomplete timeline does not entirely make clear how the firms that are designing, building and will own the plant intend to compress the construction schedule to stay on track.

Jacobs and Roetger also said company officials have had trouble accurately forecasting how long it will take to complete construction activities.

Georgia Power spokesman Brian Green said the utility remains confident that its construction contractor can meet the current schedule. He said the utility was reviewing the government’s latest report.

A spokeswoman for the builder, Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. NV, declined to comment, referring questions to Georgia Power.

Georgia Power owns a 46 percent stake in the new reactors. The other co-owners include Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the city of Dalton. Only Georgia Power is regulated by the Public Service Commission.

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Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rhenryAP.

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