NRC Issues Delay Work at V.C. Summer

Approximately 140 construction workers at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville received an early and unwelcome Christmas gift last week when they were laid off by the Shaw Group. Gentry Brann, Vice President Investor Relations and Corporate Communications at Shaw’s Baton Rouge, La. office, said the layoff was part of the natural ebb and flow of work at the site where two new reactors are being built, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) indicated that work has slowed after issues were detected with the construction of the concrete base on which much of the nuclear materials will rest once construction is completed.

“There is an issue with the rebar we’ve been discussing with them (Shaw),” Roger Hannah, a spokesperson for the NRC’s Region 2 office in Atlanta, said Friday. “(The layoff) is likely related to that. We had a meeting with them today (Dec. 21) to discuss inspection issues.”

Brann, responding to direct questions from The Voice about the relationship between NRC inspection issues and the layoffs, made no mention of the rebar concerns.

“As a standard practice within the construction industry, Shaw has completed several activities and some of the workforce is no longer needed,” Brann wrote in an email. “At this time Shaw has exhausted all options to locate other work activities for these individuals. As a result, Shaw will temporarily lay off about 140 civil construction workers. Those impacted will receive assistance from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.”

Hannah said the issue centered around the rebar (steel bars used to reinforce concrete) in the basemat (the concrete platform on which the reactors, the steam generators, pumps and other nuclear materials will rest) structure, the type of rebar used and the way the rebar was connected together.

“You have to have certain kinds of rebar,” Hannah said, “and the connections have to be done in a certain kind of way in order to meet NRC regulations. The original design met those standards, but they have deviated from the design.”

Hannah said that deviation may ultimately prove to be acceptable by the NRC, in which case Shaw and the plant’s owners would have to file for a license amendment request. It is also possible Shaw would be required to make changes in the rebar construction, Hannah said, which would be next to impossible once the concrete has been poured over it. Therefore, the pour has been suspended until the matter can be resolved, something that could take several months, Hannah said.

Hannah also said that NRC inspectors at the site, who have been monitoring construction since the project broke ground, have been aware of the rebar issue from the start.

“We’ve seen the issue all along,” Hannah said. “We have been having ongoing discussion with (Shaw) about it and we’ve expressed that we had concerns.”

What was not clear at press time, from Hannah or from Brann, was why the rebar construction deviated from the original design and why the rebar construction was allowed to continue if NRC inspectors saw a problem.

While Hannah said the rebar issue would take three to four months to resolve, a spokesperson for SCANA said last week that the project – including the basemat pour – was still on schedule. However, that there was no definite date for the basemat pour, he said.

“We don’t want to impact the scheduling negatively,” Hannah said, “but our overarching concern is to make sure things are done right. This may not be a problem, structurally; just a deviation from the original design.”

Tom Clements, a Columbia-based environmental activist who works with Nuclear Watch South, a member group of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, noted that Shaw is also experiencing problems at the Alvin W. Vogtle Plant near Waynesboro, Ga. Shaw is in the midst of a similar construction project there, and Clements said he learned last week that the basemat pour at Vogtle has also been delayed.

Vogtle, owned by Georgia Power, is, like V.C. Summer, constructing two new nuclear reactors through the Shaw Group.

“Construction at V.C. Summer is trailing behind Vogtle so they can see how things go,” Clements said. “IF there are any problems, they want them to come out at Vogtle so they can correct them before moving ahead at V.C. Summer.”

The basemat pour at Vogtle, originally scheduled for October, may not take place until February 2013, Clements said.

V.C. Summer is operated by S.C. Electric & Gas, which owns two-thirds of the plant. The S.C. Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) owns the remaining one-third.

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