COLUMBIA — Georgia Power has known for years about an internal 2011 report that warned Westinghouse officials that the Pennsylvania-based company wasn't prepared to finish two nuclear projects in Georgia and South Carolina, company officials said Monday.
The document itself was drafted by a Westinghouse engineer in Pittsburgh, and was first described in a story by The Post and Courier in September.
The revelation during a Monday hearing with Georgia regulators could raise serious questions about the two unfinished Westinghouse reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta as a coalition of utilities push forward with the project that is estimated to cost $25 billion.
The disclosure comes more than three months after a sister project in South Carolina was canceled in late July, a decision partly shaped by Westinghouse's inexperience in managing large construction projects. The company was the main contractor on both nuclear projects.
The internal Westinghouse document outlined how the company didn’t have the staff, structure or experience needed to manage the engineering and construction work required to build its new AP1000 reactors, which were scheduled to be used in South Carolina and Georgia.
It suggested the projects in Georgia and South Carolina were "at risk" and warned Westinghouse officials that the decision to disregard state engineering laws could lead to lawsuits. And it predicted the company would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in its quest to develop and build a new generation of nuclear power plants.
That critical analysis was reportedly shared with Westinghouse's former chairman in 2011. But until Monday, there was no evidence that the document was seen in past years by anyone outside of Westinghouse's staff and leadership.
That changed with the Monday testimony of officials with Georgia Power, one of the primary owners of two partially-built reactors at Plant Vogtle.
Attorneys for Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co., obtained the document through litigation with Westinghouse in 2014, according to the testimony. That's roughly three years before Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy and the future of the projects in Georgia and South Carolina were thrown into doubt.
Georgia regulators wanted to know Monday why the utility didn't disclose that document to the state's five-member Public Service Commission when they received it.
David McKinney, vice president of nuclear development for Southern Co., said Georgia Power didn't share that information with state officials because it obtained the document through a lawsuit and couldn't share it without Westinghouse's permission.
"This was one of thousands of documents that were exchanged," McKinney said.
During the lengthy hearing, Georgia Power and the other utilities partnering on the Vogtle Plant said they planned to continue construction on the unfinished reactors next to the Savannah River.
"We are committed. We are moving forward," Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers said.
It remains to be seen whether the Georgia utility commission will approve plans for finishing the reactors. Like the abandoned reactors at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina, the nuclear power plants in Georgia have been plagued by design problems and construction delays, though construction is ongoing under a new construction management team.
Georgia's utility regulators questioned whether Georgia Power can meet the latest schedule, which calls for the reactors to be finished by 2022.
"We're supposed to believe after the budget busting and schedule changes in past years that this is going to be a schedule we can work with?" said Stan Wise, the chairman of the Georgia utility commission.
The fate of the Georgia reactors is expected to become more clear early next year.
"This is probably one of the most serious issues that this commission has faced," Wise said.