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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Southern Company Willfully Falsified Test Results at Vogtle Unit 3

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on June 25, 2023

Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Scale of International Nuclear and Radiological Events.

An Editorial Opinion


On June 20, 2023, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) notified Southern Nuclear Operating Company about two willful violations of the Commission’s “Instructions, Procedures, and Drawings” for nuclear power Unit 3 at the Southern Company’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.


In its letter to Southern Nuclear, the NRC found the following two violations:


“[A] former test engineer employed by a contractor of Southern Nuclear

Operating Company (SNC) . . . . deliberately falsified completion of a required step associated with hot functional testing (HFT) procedures at Vogtle Unit 3. The first [violation] involved the failure to obtain ambient temperature pressurizer shim gap measurements and record the values on the appropriate data table in accordance with the procedure, placing SNC in violation of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR) Part 50 Appendix B, Criterion V, ‘Instructions, Procedures, and Drawings.’ The second [violation] involved the failure to maintain complete and accurate information in accordance with 10 CFR 52.6, ‘Completeness and Accuracy of Information,’ when the contract test engineer signed off a procedure step confirming the pressurizer shim gap measurements had been taken, when in fact they had not.”


Southern Nuclear, an affiliate of the Southern Company and the designated “operator” of Units 3 and 4 at Vogtle, admitted that the two violations occurred.


According to the NRC letter,


“[O]n May 12, 2021, while recording HFT measurements at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (°F), [Southern Nuclear] found two reactor coolant system support settings out of tolerance and the plant was cooled down to ambient to reset the supports. [Southern Nuclear] conducted an extent of condition to reverify that all required ambient measurements were recorded and discovered the pressurizer shim gap measurements had not yet been obtained even though the procedure was signed as completed."


These two violations, which occurred in 2021, had “no actual consequences and the potential safety significance was very low” only because the “issues were identified during HFT with no fuel loaded into the reactor core.” (Emphasis added)


Today, Unit 3 is still riddled with design and engineering flaws, as well as shoddy workmanship. Unlike the testing in 2021, there is now fuel loaded into the reactor core.


Southern Nuclear employees and contractors felt pressured by Southern Company senior management executives to falsify construction-related inspections and test results in order to bring Units 3 into commercial operation as soon as possible.


Citing Brett Wingo's whistleblower case, Southern Nuclear employees and contractors have been reluctant to report these "quality control" problems and "performance assurance" issues to top managers at the Southern Company.


Southern Company Top Brass Crucified Whistleblower Brett Wingo


In 2012, a whistleblower named Brett Wingo alleged that the Southern Company’s Kemper, Mississippi coal gasification plant construction project was mismanaged and that the company fraudulently concealed cost overruns and mislead investors about project delays.


Although engineers told management in February 2014 that the company should not promise completion of the Kemper construction project by the year’s end, the Southern Company ignored that advice. The engineers were told by plant managers to present an optimistic picture to avoid a financial calamity.


The Southern Company sued Wingo on February 19, 2015, to stop him from talking about the concealed cost overruns and project delays.


Wingo was subsequently fired when he would not keep quiet about the Southern Company’s mismanagement of the Kemper project.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently ruled that Wingo's firing was illegal. The agency stated that Wingo should be rehired and paid back wages and benefits.


Wingo was offered $975,000 by the company to keep quiet, but he did not stop talking.


In August 2017, Wingo filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the Southern Company stating that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's order to reinstate him was being ignored. Wingo also claimed he had reported safety concerns and unrealistic construction schedules internally, but he was warned that he was “digging a hole for his career and not to become a martyr.”


Wingo raised his concerns with Southern Company executives as high as former CEO Tom Fanning. He also reported them to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was managing the project before Wingo was fired.


The Southern Company mistreated Brett Wingo and made his life miserable. This mistreatment was meant to deter employee whistleblowing activities.


The $3.5 billion Kemper plant was more than $4 billion over budget and well behind schedule. The equipment failed to capture the promised amount of carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere.


In the end, Thomas Fanning conceded that ending the coal gasification operations at the Kemper plant was in the best interest of all parties involved.


In 2021, the demolition of the Kemper coal gasification plant commenced. In all, the Southern Company wasted nearly $8 billion on this failed power plant.


Southern Company Whistleblowers Depend on Independent Journalists to Warn the Public About the Highly Probable Level 7 Nuclear Disaster at Vogtle Unit 3


After the Southern Company's crucifixion of Brett Wingo, whistleblowers at the company began sending their internal information about the outdated design plans and specifications, structural engineering flaws, shoddy workmanship, inadequate inspections, and falsified documents relating to the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 and testing failures to independent journalists in the region.


Kevin B. Forbes, who serves as the chief executive officer of CDLU, Roger Shuler, who is the owner and publisher of Legal Schnauzer, David Meckley, the owner and publisher of The Meck Report, and my online news organization, www.donaldwatkins.com, have been entrusted with the journalistic responsibility for informing the public about the nature and scope of the deathtraps commonly known within the nuclear power industry as Vogtle Units 3 and 4.


As reported by National Public Radio in articles published on December 19 and 21, 2022, the Southern Company has been able to effectively compromise financially struggling legacy media organizations in the South.


What is more, the Southern Company has been highly successful in its creative “catch and kill” program that prevented the publication of unfavorable investigative articles about former CEO Thomas Fanning and his mismanagement of the Southern Company that were developed by Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal in 2022 and 2023, respectively.


A Level 7 Catastrophic Nuclear Disaster is 99% Likely at Units 3


Based upon industry reports, Units 3 and 4 have the highest pre-operational testing failure rates among the nation’s 92 nuclear power plants. These failure rates are the product of:

  • A culture of production over quality

  • A culture of poor inspecting or non-inspecting of work

  • High personnel turnover and absenteeism

  • Significant work backlogs

  • High first-time component testing failure rates

  • Need for extensive rework and retesting, and

  • The willful falsification of tests results.

Today, there is a 99% probability that a Level 7 nuclear disaster will occur at Unit 3 within 90 days after it becomes fully operational. Level 7 is on the scale of the worst nuclear disasters at Chernobyl in the old Soviet Union in 1986 and Fukushima in Japan in 2011.


The chart accompanying this article depicts the seven levels of nuclear events. Level 7 is the most destructive category of a nuclear and radiological event.


We have publicly warned the residents who will be most affected by the Level 7 nuclear disaster at Vogtle to leave an 11-county area surrounding Vogtle, as soon as possible. No agency of the federal or state regulatory agency is adequately protecting their vital interests with respect to the safety and soundness of the anticipated commercial operations at Units 3 and 4.


When the Level 7 nuclear disaster occurs, deaths and serious bodily injuries from radiation poisoning, along with massive property destruction, will reign-down upon the unsuspecting and innocent men, women, and children who live within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle.


Based upon the credible whistleblower complaints and supporting documentation we have received to date, no other outcome is likely or probable.


Southern Company officials have: (a) lied to state and federal regulatory agencies, (b) gouged and cheated the company's utility customers for over a decade, (c) co-opted greedy and morally bankrupt politicians who accepted “dark money” campaign contributions to sellout their constituents, (d) concealed design problems, engineering flaws, and shoddy workmanship from external safety monitors and inspectors, (e) and willfully falsified critical pre-operation test results.


Unbelievably, the NRC and the Georgia Public Service Commission have allowed these same Southern Company officials to self-certify the safety and soundness of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.


As was the case with the Southern Company’s coal gasification plant in Kemper, Mississippi, politics have trumped public safety with respect the NRC’s regulatory approvals of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.


The NRC is rushing to issue a final approval for Unit 3 to begin commercial operations so that President Joe Biden can (a) brag about this new “clean energy” nuclear power plant during his re-election campaign and (b) showcase the Southern Company’s affirmative action hire of new CEO Christopher C. Womack, who is black.


Hundreds of thousands of residents in the 11-county area surrounding Vogtle will be forced to permanently resettle solely because of a political decision that is designed to help Joe Biden, whose presidential approval rating is in the toilet.


Epilogue


Residents within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle have entrusted their public safety to the Southern Company, a proven corporate serial cheater, and the NRC and Georgia PSC, two of the primary government entities that this serial cheater has corrupted.


This lax agency oversight and public corruption have created an extremely high risk of catastrophic deaths, bodily injuries, and property destruction from a Level 7 nuclear event at Vogtle.


Unit 3 is about as safe as the OceanGate submersible that was lost at sea last Sunday on a dive to the Titanic.


Unfortunately, an estimated 500,000 residents living within a 40-mile radius of Vogtle have trusted the Southern Company to do the right thing at Units 3 and 4, at their own risk. The Southern Company has done nothing to earn their trust.


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For your information, we are providing Georgia Power Company's 2023 Emergency Plan for a Nuclear Disaster at Vogtle Units 3 and 4. Click here to read or download the plan.

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