Only on 12: Close-up look at Plant Vogtle construction site

News 12's Chad Mills got a close-up look at the construction at Plant Vogtle. (WRDW-TV)

News 12's Chad Mills got a close-up look at the construction at Plant Vogtle. (WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012

WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- Buzz Miller, vice president of Nuclear Development for Southern Company, took News 12 on an exclusive tour of the Plant Vogtle construction site. Day after day, work there continues, and many of the larger modules have arrived on site from manufacturers across the country and globe and are almost ready for installment.

"You see a lot of workers out here. We got about a total, including the Shaw and Westinghouse, there's more than 2,300 people at the site now," Miller said.

Miller points out the work being done on the nuclear island of Unit 3. Right now, a rectangular hole with one semi-circular edge is empty, but soon, it'll house the reactor and auxiliary building after nuclear concrete is poured into the rebar jungle below. First, they'll have to weld together the pieces of the containment vessel and auxiliary building.

"It's about 1,300 tons, when finished, that will be picked up by the big crane and put into place," he said of the auxiliary building, which is constructed in a building nearby.

He says it's formed by 72 metal plates, which are welded together. Next year, a massive heavy-lift derrick, or crane, will lift each module into the nuclear island.

Big is no exaggeration. At 560 feet tall, it's actually taller than the Washington Monument. The crane is one of the largest in the world. It has the capacity to move five 747 jets across the distance of more than 3.5 football fields in one single lift.

All of these individual pieces will soon be stacked into place by the crane one by one.

"It's much like the notion of pre-fabricated housing. When you look at a house under construction, you can do it 2x4 by 2x4, or you can see an entire wall panel delivered and put together," he said, explaining the process of modular construction, which he says has made construction there much more efficient.

Georgia Power filed an Application for Certification of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 with the Georgia Public Service Commission in August 2008. An Early Site Permit and Limited Work Authorization was issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in August 2009. On Feb. 9, 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted to approve the issuance of the Combined Construction and Operating License for Units 3 and 4. This meant construction could begin. It also marked an historic milestone. Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 are the first two new nuclear units licensed in the United States in 30 years. Miller says the construction of the two new reactors represents a nuclear renaissance in the U.S.

"We know people are watching. It is of national significance and even international significance that this facility is being built here," he said.

It means the project is under a spotlight. Licensing delays could now mean the reactors won't be online until 2017 and 2018. They were originally estimated to be operational by 2016 and 2017.

There are also questions about a rising price tag and a lawsuit between Southern Company and its contractors (Shaw Group and Westinghouse) over who should pay the extra costs.

"In my position, I worry about it, and I have to do it, but the 2,300 people that are working here today, they come to work, and they do their work with a purpose, and they're not worried about what's going on in the commercial aspect," Miller said.

He says they'll work through the bumps, because they're dead set on building infrastructure for the country's future and creating clean, renewable energy along the way.

He says completion will mean Georgia Power electric bills will go down. The two new units will generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity each. Overall, all four units will create enough combined energy to power 13 of the world's largest aircraft carriers at top speed.

The economic impact on this area, he says, will continue to be tremendous. Southern Company and its contractors will have 5,000 workers out there at the height of construction. Once operational, the two new units will provide 800 permanent jobs. He also points out many indirect jobs the project has created both locally and nationally.

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