Construction Costs

Construction costs for new reactors are unpredictable, extreme and continue to rise. Current estimates run as high as $12 billion per reactor but threaten to further sky-rocket, prompting the nuclear industry either to cancel plans for new plants or look to taxpayer-funded federal loan guarantees to cover the cost.



MOX a $5 billion boondoggle, with no end in sight!

As reported by Steven Mufson at the Washington Post:

A group of more than a dozen prominent former arms negotiators and senior diplomats has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging an end to the U.S. nuclear fuel program at the government’s Savannah River complex that they say is too costly and a threat to non-proliferation efforts.

...The signatories included former nuclear arms negotiators Robert Einhorn and Robert Gallucci; former ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Joseph Nye; former White House director for arms control, former Pentagon and intelligence official Henry S. Rowen; former head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Jessica Matthews; former Nuclear Regulation Commission members Peter Bradford and Victor Gilinsky; National Medal of Science winner and a designer of the first hydrogen bomb Richard Garwin; and nuclear policy experts Henry Sokolski, Frank von Hippel, S. David Freeman and Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione.

SRS Watch has posted the letter online.

But such concerns about the use of Mixed Oxide Uranium-Plutonium (MOX) fuel at commercial atomic reactors goes back 20 years. Grassroots anti-nuclear activists, as in the 1999 lawsuit Alice Hirt v. Bill Richardson, Energy Secretary, urged that weapons-grade plutonium be mixed back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and be treated as a deadly, dangerous radioactive waste, not a nuclear power commodity.

However, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina has proceeded regardless, a $5 billion waste of federal taxpayer money thus far, with no end in site. Incredibly, that construction bill is far from complete -- and the building constructed thus far, at huge expense, is too small to house the needed equipment!

But in addition to the unwarranted subsidy to the nuclear power industry, the program also risks nuclear weapons proliferation internationally, and also risks a plutonium-fuelled nuclear power catastrophe at reactors never designed for MOX use. More.


"Gas deal could signal Southern’s drift from new nuclear projects"

As reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a $12 billion deal merging Southern Co. and the AGL natural gas utility could mark the end of the "nuclear renaissance" for Southern.

The article reports:

This deal signals that “the nuclear renaissance is over for Southern,” said Robert “Bobby” Brown, a regulatory lawyer and former member of Georgia’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission.

The article goes on:

The Atlanta company is building two new nuclear power units at its Vogtle site in Georgia and an advanced-technology coal-fired plant in Mississippi. Both those projects are years behind schedule and have resulted in billions of dollars of cost overruns that will be born by Southern’s shareholders or customers, or both. (emphasis added)

The Obama administration awarded Southern and its partners at Vogtle 3 & 4 a whopping $8.3 billion in federal taxpayer-back loans and loan guarantees. If the project defaults on its loan repayment, federal taxpayers would be left holding the bag.

That's 15 times more money than was lost to the U.S. Treasury by the Solyndra solar loan guarantee default. And Vogtle 3 & 4's risk of default is higher than Solyndra's was determined to be when the solar loan guarantee was awarded.

In addition to taxpayer subsidies, Vogtle 3 & 4 has been financed by "Construction Work in Progress" -- surcharges on ratepayers' electricity bills that are illegal in most states.


"Duke Energy spending on Lee nuclear plant remains slow"

As reported by John Downey in Charlotte Business Journal, Duke Nuclear's spending on "pre-construction" activities at its proposed new Lee nuclear power plant in Gaffney, SC, has been relatively low in the past couple years -- if $3-4 million per month can be regarded as "low." After all, significant energy efficiency, and even renewable energy projects, such as wind power and solar photo-voltaics, could be built for that kind of money!

Duke Nuclear had originally proposed firing up Lee Unit 1 in 2017. But now initial start up has been postponed till 2024 at the earliest.

Duke proposes to build two Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, just as is happening at Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and at Summer 2 & 3 in SC. Both the Vogtle and the Summer new reactor construction projects are billions of dollars over-budget, and years behind schedule.

Duke has not yet charged its $450 million in "pre-construction" activities to its SC rate-base, but it could under SC's generous "Construction Work in Progress" (CWIP) law.

Already, South Carolina Electric & Gas and SCANA have charged their SC ratepayers more than half a dozen rate increases, entirely devoted to CWIP costs on building Summer 2 & 3, with the SC public service commission's blessing. SCE&G and SCANA have not applied for federal nuclear loan guarantees, however.

Vogtle 3 & 4 has slogged ahead, thanks not only to CWIP surcharges on GA ratepayer electricity bills, but also compliments of an $8.3 billion federal taxpayer-backed loan guarantee, and loan. President Obama and Energy Secretary Moniz have provided that massive loan guarantee, and loan, without charging Southern Nuclear and its partners a single penny of credit subsidy fee, to protect federal taxpayers at least to some small extent, should Southern default on its loan repayment.

$8.3 billion is 15 times more federal taxpayer funding than was lost to the U.S. Treasury at Solyndra, when that solar loan guarantee repayment defaulted. But Vogtle 3 & 4 are at a significantly higher risk of defaulting, than was Solyndra when the solar loan guarantee was awarded.

More than $10 billion in nuclear loan guarantee funding remains available, for projects like Lee 1 & 2, or Fermi 3 in MI, to apply for. Lee 1 & 2 still needs COLA (combined Construction and Operating License Application) approval by NRC, something that Fermi 3 already won on May 1, 2015. However, Beyond Nuclear and allies continue to challenge the Fermi 3 license, now by appealing to the federal courts. One of the appeals by the environmental coalition is a challenge to NRC's Orwellian permission to grant the go ahead for "pre-construction" activities at new reactor construction sites, in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.


"Prefab Nuclear Plants Prove Just as Expensive"

"Burning money" graphic by Gene Case, Avenging AngelsRebecca Smith has reported in the Wall Street Journal that the "[m]odular method has run into costly delays and concerns about who will bear the brunt of the expense."

Joseph "Buzz" Miller, Georgia Power's executive vice president for nuclear development, is quoted as saying "The promise of modular construction has yet to be seen."

The two proposed new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, Vogtle Units 3 & 4, that Georgia Power is building are years behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. $8.3 billion in federal nuclear loan guarantees, awarded by the Obama administration at no cost to the nuclear utilities, would leave taxpayers holding the bag if the project defaults on its loan repayment.

That's 15 times the amount of taxpayer money at risk than was lost to the U.S. Treasury with the Solyndra solar loan guarantee default several years ago.

The article also reports: "Stephen Byrne, president of South Carolina Electric & Gas [SCE&G], recently told investors his company is in discussions with Westinghouse and CB&I [Chicago Bridge & Iron] about the cost overruns and who will bear the burden. Utilities want those added costs to be shared, getting vendors to pay for some of the added expense but vendors are examining the claims. 'We feel that there’s an opportunity for a settlement in the future,' he said."

The two AP1000s under construction at Summer nuclear power plant in SC have been financed by repeated "Construction Work in Progress" (CWIP) surcharges on ratepayer electricity bills over the past many years. Such a "nuclear tax" is illegal in most states.

These cost overruns and schedule delays were to be expected, based on the previous history of nuclear power in the U.S. and overseas.

In 1985, Forbes wrote "The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale."

In fact, ironically enough, Vogtle Units 1 & 2 were the poster children for cost overruns, coming in at 1,300% their originally estimated price tag.

And the Watts Bar Units 1 & 2 are the case studies in atomic reactor schedule delays. Watts Bar took from 1973 to 1996 to become operational. Watts Bar 2 began construction in 1972, and is still struggling to begin generating electricity, 23 years later!

Such problems extend overseas, as well. A decade-long delay, and huge cost overruns, at the Olkiluoto new reactor construction site in Finland have led to major lawsuits between the nuclear utility, TVO, and the bankrupt French reactor vendor, Areva, to determine who is liable.


New French EPR in Finland now estimated to come in nine years overdue

As reported by NucNet, the Finnish nuclear utility TVO has revealed its latest estimate for grid connection of its Olkiluoto-3 reactor in Finland: 2018. That's nine years late, a major part of the reason that the original price tag has also soared. The new reactor is a French Areva EPR (European Pressurized Water Reactor).

And, as reported by Politico, another proposed new reactor project in Finland -- HANHIKIVI 1 -- may have suffered a serious setback, due to Finnish authorities' concerns about a potential Croatian partner's shadowy ties to Russian business interests.