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Bechtel, Fluor said to prepare bids for southern nuclear project

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Bechtel Corp is preparing a bid to potentially take over the construction of two nuclear reactors at Southern Co's Vogtle plant in Georgia, a project that's been plagued by years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.

[SAN FRANCISCO] Bechtel Corp is preparing a bid to potentially take over the construction of two nuclear reactors at Southern Co's Vogtle plant in Georgia, a project that's been plagued by years of delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns.

Bechtel, a closely-held engineering and construction company, is expected to have an estimate on how much it would cost to take over construction from Toshiba Corp's bankrupt Westinghouse Electric Co unit by August, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information isn't public. Fluor Corp, which is already a subcontractor at the Vogtle site, is preparing its own estimate, one of the people said. Southern, which owns almost half the project, estimated US$7.75 billion as its share of total capital and financing costs in December.

Westinghouse's bankruptcy in March threw the fate of the Vogtle project and another two other reactors Scana Corp is building in South Carolina into question. The utilities and their state regulators have been grappling ever since with how to move forward with the expansions that were once seen as ushering in a new era of nuclear power in the country. August bids would take Southern far beyond a June 3 deadline, when an interim agreement between Southern and Westinghouse expires.

Stan Wise, chairman of the state agency that regulates Southern's Georgia utility, said he had expected the company to provide details on finishing the reactors next week. Southern Chief Executive Officer Tom Fanning instead told shareholders at a meeting Wednesday that it probably wouldn't decide the fate of the project until August. "I'm not pleased with the timeline presented," Mr Wise said by phone.

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Southern spokesman Jacob Hawkins declined to comment on the Bechtel and Fluor bids. Southern's Georgia Power utility and co-owners of the reactors under construction are preparing their own estimate, he said. Fluor didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and Bechtel deferred comment to Southern.

As part of the interim contract with Westinghouse expiring next week, Southern had agreed in principle to take the lead from the Toshiba unit, which sought bankruptcy protection after being hit with billions of dollars in project cost overruns. That tentative deal hinges in part on whether Scana decides to move forward with its own reactors at the VC Summer plant.

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