Southern says coronavirus slows work on new Georgia Vogtle nuclear reactors in U.S

(Reuters) - U.S. energy company Southern Co said on Thursday that steps to protect workers from the coronavirus slowed progress on one of the two long-delayed reactors under construction at its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia by a couple months.

Southern said the target in-service date for Unit 4 is now May 2022, pushed back from March 2022, according to a presentation following the release of its first-quarter earnings. The targeted in-service date for Vogtle Unit 3 remains May 2021.

Southern CEO Tom Fanning said the company reduced its workforce at the project site by about 20% in mid-April due to COVID-19.

When Georgia utility regulators first approved construction of the Vogtle expansion in 2009, the two 1,117-megawatt (MW) Westinghouse AP1000 reactors (Units 3 and 4) were expected to cost about $14 billion and enter service in 2016 and 2017.

Costs have ballooned to more than $25 billion in part due to delays related to the nuclear accident at Japan’s Fukushima plant in 2011 and the 2017 bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the project’s lead contractor, according to analyst estimates.

Southern said on Thursday that the project’s projected cost had not changed due to the coronavirus delay.

Southern’s Georgia Power unit owns 45.7% of the Vogtle expansion. The project’s other co-owners include Oglethorpe Power Corp, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) and Dalton Utilities.

There are already two 1,215-MW reactors - Units 1 and 2 - operating at the Vogtle site.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker