Nuclear Renaissance – Dead on Arrival

Recent news about nuclear power plants in our region should be enough to show that the industry’s alleged renaissance is in trouble.  Never seen before breakdowns and off the charts construction costs should cause NC regulators to scrutinize and question any further nuclear energy plans.

Crystal River – This existing Progress Energy nuke on Florida’s west coast has been shut down since 2009 and is expected to remain off line until at least 2014 – why – because the attempted replacement of the steam generator resulted in three separations of a building wall – each the size of a basketball court!  This problem has never been seen before at a reactor.  Repairs and replacement power are estimated at $2.5 Billion – and it’s not clear who will pay – but Progress’ insurer stopped paying claims in 2011.  The impact on the Duke-Progress merger could be significant if Progress brings such a liability to the table.

Plant Vogtle – A report released this week by Georgia Power shows that two under-construction reactors in eastern Georgia near the SC border, are in deep trouble.  Design flaws and the corrective action required to address them have already resulted in an eight-month construction delay.  And Georgia Power is claiming trade secrets on virtually all cost information except an old estimate of $14 Billion for the two reactors.

Check out this page from the report:

… (Page 10) The original certified budget included a forecast for REDACTED based on REDACTED annual escalation. To date, REDACTED rates have experienced a REDACTED annual escalation rate.  Combining the REDACTED to date with a forecast for future REDACTED rates based on July 2010 actual values escalated at REDACTED, the Project forecasts REDACTED.

Yet, the company awaits an $8.33 Billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy to build Vogtle #3 and 4 – in other words since Wall Street investors consider nukes a risky investment, the federal government will assume the debt if the borrower defaults. But the cost information is a trade secret!

VC Summer – located near Columbia, South Carolina Summer is owned by SC Electric and Gas, Santee Cooper and the electric cooperative SCANA. There is one existing reactor and two more are under construction.  Extra costs and construction delays are mounting for #2 and 3 because of “unanticipated rock conditions” for the foundation, design modifications and delays in receiving plant components.  Current cost estimates are $380 Million. Meanwhile, Duke Energy Carolinas has an option to purchase up to 10% of the plant and Progress Energy is also in negotiations over buying a share of the plant.

One final note – both Vogtle and Summer are likely to suffer further cost escalations and delays because there will be changes required by the NRC as a result of the Fukushima tragedy in Japan as well as experimental nature of the Westinghouse reactor design.

14 Comments

  1. Rob Schofield

    March 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for following this Lisa. It’s hard to believe we’re having to fight this battle all over again three decades after so many of us thought it had been won.

  2. Frank Burns

    March 2, 2012 at 11:51 am

    Rob, what battle are you referring to? Are you against nuclear power? You all don’t want coal, oil, natural gas, hydro or nuclear. Do you think windmills and solar will handle base load?

  3. Doug

    March 2, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    Don’t you know Frank ? Rob and his cohorts live in this dream world where renewables supply endless amounts of clean,cheap,beautiful energy with no pollution.What a gullible bunch !

  4. JNelly

    March 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Agreed. Nuclear is the only way to meet our power demands. I wonder if anyone who complains has ever considered that part of the reason proposed plants run into issues during construction is because we haven’t “learned” enought about nuclear plant design. Why? Because there are too many folks who “oppose” nuclear and prevent plants from being built. We learn by doing!

    Wind and solar are a supplement to US power demand, not the answer. And the future for smaller communities, especially those off the grid, is in modular nukes. Again, watch all “green” bunch come out and start protesting to stop the development of those too.

    Nuclear is about the only thing Obama has gotten right (and member of his own administration are opposing him on it). I don’t understand what people want in this country.

  5. Rob Schofield

    March 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Wow, cool — a hostile takeover from the pro-nukers. We must’ve gotten cross-posted on Meltdown Monthly..

    Who knew that the solution to preventing more TMI’s, Chernobyls and Fukushimas is to build MORE nukes? How silly of me not to have realized that large multinational corporations attempting to maximize profits, share prices and CEO compensation will do a better job of protecting humanity from additional catastrophes that will ruin large swaths of the planet for centuries to come than the silly and antiquated idea of publicly promulgated safety and environmental regulations.

    Forgive my silly naïveté.

  6. Susan

    March 4, 2012 at 8:40 am

    A massive switch from coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power plants to solar power plants could supply 69 percent of the U.S.’s electricity and 35 percent of its total energy by 2050. But $420 billion in subsidies from 2011 to 2050 would be required to fund the infrastructure and make it cost-competitive. We could have found the money; yes, it would have been extremely difficult, but worth every penny. The money our country has spent on protecting oil supplies, in countries that want us dead, two wars and so many dead young people, that direction didn’t produce anything but fear on our part and contempt in the countries we invaded. Oh, and “trilions” of dollars, on war, down the hole and record profits for oil companies who didn’t spend a dime on safe passage. Oil companies wallow in cash when the average person suffers through ever increasing gas, diesel and home heating prices.
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-solar-grand-plan

  7. Lisa Finaldi

    March 4, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    An independent report about how solar pricing is on a downward trend while nuclear is on the upward:

    http://www.ncwarn.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/NCW-SolarReport_final1.pdf

    And this one about dealing with intermittent electricity sources – another myth by the nuclear proponents:

    http://www.ncwarn.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Blackburn-NC-Wind-Solar-March-2010.pdf

    Renewable energy combined with efficiency and conservation measures can take the place of nuclear power.

  8. Frank Burns

    March 4, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    As a consumer, I’m not prepared for these costs. I’m content to continue with the current system.

  9. Jeff S

    March 4, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Sorry, but that shouldn’t really be your choice to make Frank.

    Conveniently, you forgot to pay for the air pollution. You forgot to pay for the mountains that were destroyed. You forgot to pay for the streams that were destroyed and/or polluted, the people that are sick, dying or dead from the effects.

    I’m just kidding. Obviously I realize you don’t care. I’m sure you would do it all again two-fold if it would save you a nickel on your monthly bill.

  10. Frank Burns

    March 5, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Jeff, what air pollution? The coal power plants have scrubbers and catalytic conversion installed to remove pollutants. CO2 is not a pollutant. The only outstanding problem that has not been addressed yet is long term disposal of nuclear waste fuel.

    You all want to completely gut a system that is working fine, it makes no sense to me. Your suggestion is hereby rejected.

  11. Doug

    March 5, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Lisa’s numbers posted above are widely disputed, and way too optimistic. Storage is a huge problem for solar, and distribution along with permitting is the big obstacle for wind power. Even after huge investments , renewables are only 3 % of our energy total even including hydroelectric, and will at best make up about 20% of our energy needs. Jobs created with these two forms of energy have been very costly and much less than expected

  12. Ricky Leung

    March 5, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I think it’s both a both of production and consumption. Our production of energy is mostly based on sources that we know will run out and produces harmful substances. And we consume a massive amount of energy.

  13. Jack

    March 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Good point Mr. Burns I mean JNelly. In this country we need to build and fail and build again so we can some day get it right. Who cares about all that cancer causing stuff.

  14. Hakan

    March 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    A question about DoE Loan Guarantees. . . I know you guys have to cnttoansly argue with anti-nukes calling the Loan Guarantees expensive subsidies . I was reading Rod’s comment on the Kansas City Star article, and the discussion in his comments made it sound like the government is making the loan itself. I thought a loan guarantees is like insurance’ for the lender? I.e. the nuclear developers go to private lenders for the loans, and the lenders agree to loan the money, but only if the loans are guaranteed’ by the U.S. DoE? If that’s the case, if there aren’t any defaults on the loans, the guarantees should cost taxpayers almost nothing, right (and since the developers are having to pay a credit subsidy for the guarantees, could potentially *make money* for the government if no one defaults, yes)? It seems to me that the logical thing is for the government to use its unique powers to ensure that none of the loans completely defaults. If a developer cannot afford to keep making payments on the loan, they should lose their equity in the nuclear plants, and the government can find *someone else* to finish the plant, and get it into revenue service. Make sure none of the projects fail, and it won’t be expensive for taxpayers. Additionally, the federal government should use its powers to ensure that we don’t have any more fiasco’s like Shoreham once a nuclear plant is licensed to start construction, and all the money has been committed, you can’t let capricious politics stop a perfectly fine plant with no safety problems from going into service. Cut the red tape, make sure the plants get built and operate, and there’s not much financial risk to the taxpayer, it seems to me.