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.



Ratepayers and taxpayers could lose many billions of dollars in return for zero electricity, if Westinghouse bankruptcy leads to cancellation of four partially constructed atomic reactors

Construction Work in Progress (CWIP), also known as advance cost recovery, is illegal in most states.

It was outlawed by popular referendum in Missouri in 1976, for example. In Indiana, CWIP's illegality led to the cancellation of partially constructed atomic reactors, when would-be nuclear utilities were busted in court by Citizen Action Coalition for trying to do it anyway, despite its illegality.

But the state governments of Georgia and South Carolina decided to make CWIP legal, in order to force ratepayers to fund construction of four Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors: Vogtle Units 3 & 4 in Georgia, and Summer Units 2 & 3 in South Carolina. CWIP was made legal in South Carolina by the Base Load Review Act.

But Westinghouse Nuclear declared bankruptcy on March 29th, due to the massive cost overruns (in the billions of dollars), due to years-long construction delays, at the four reactors. There is a distinct possibility that all four reactors could be cancelled.

Already, after nine rate hikes in just the past several years, nearly 20% of South Carolina ratepayers' payments on their electric bills go toward the construction of Summer 2 & 3. If Summer 2 and/or 3 are cancelled, ratepayers will have invested billions of dollars, without receiving so much as one kilowatt-hour of electricity.

But at least if the two reactors are cancelled, the people of South Carolina won't face decades of "routine" radioactivity releases, as well as the risk of catastrophic releases of hazardous radioactivity, due to reactor core meltdowns, or high-level radioactive waste storage pool fires.

Vogtle 3 & 4 are also being financed through CWIP, through a surcharge on ratepayer bills, a veritable nuclear tax. In addition, Vogtle 3 & 4 were awarded $8.3 billion of federal taxpayer-backed nuclear loan guarantees, with zero credit subsidy fee. This means, if the Vogtle 3 & 4 construction project defaults on its loan repayment, that entire amount -- 15 times more taxpayer money than was lost in the Solyndra solar loan guarantee default -- could be lost to the U.S. Treasury.

For more information on the Westinghouse Nuclear bankruptcy declaration, and its implication for the ratepayers of Georgia and South Carolina (as well as for U.S. taxpayers, given the Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear loan guarantees), please see Beyond Nuclear's Loan Guarantees website section.


How Georgia officials pantsed ratepayers over the holidays

Mr. Burns, Nuclear Scrooge of Simpsons infamy, wasn't stingy when it came to handing out "Atomic Fireballs" as a stand in for the radioactive waste the nuclear industry would like the public to "consent" to "swallowing," during a protest outside NRC's "Nuke Waste Con Game" public comment mtg. in Perrysburg, OH, 2013. While Radioactive Man is on the take, re: the Atomic Fireballs, it is Planet Earth, and all future generations of all living things, on the receiving end of the subsidized high-level radioactive waste generation, as at Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA.As reported by Matt Kempner in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial:

...The Georgia Public Service Commission — a body of five officials that most voters don’t even realize existsyanked Georgia consumers’ pants down to their ankles. One thing they exposed in the process: a big gap in the state’s system for regulating a powerful business monopoly.

It took PSC commissioners less than six minutes, without debate, to unanimously slap customers of Georgia Power with responsibility to pay for billions of dollars in cost overruns tied to the for-profit company’s expansion of nuclear Plant Vogtle. The PSC allowed only the barest of reductions in Georgia Power’s profit margins. Even that is a temporary measure compared to decades the company is likely to be pulling in fully caffeinated profits in this arrangement.

But ignore that, because the PSC also ordered that a note be inserted in Georgia Power bills to declare, essentially, what a deal you’re getting.

They decided to include this message because, well, if you just look at your Georgia Power bill you won’t actually notice anything that looks like savings.

In reality, the PSC’s Dec. 20 vote didn’t give Georgia Power and its parent the Southern Company the entire moon, just most of it.

That’s not the way PSC commissioner Stan Wise saw it.

“It’s an extraordinary balance of interests of all the parties,” Wise said during the hearing.

Some others, like consumer advocacy and environmental group leaders, disagreed. But the most troubling issue is how weak of an effort the state put forth to actually do its job... [emphasis added]

Similarly, it took the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioners less than a minute to rubber-stamp a 20-year license extension at Fermi 2 in Michigan, on Dec. 23, 2015. The NRC Commissioners "Affirmation Session" took place in an NRC HQ building largely devoid of human beings -- everyone had already taken off for the holiday break. Nevermind that Fermi 2 is a Fukushima Daiichi twin desighed General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor. We've all seen what THOSE are capable of!

And the radioactive Grinches who stole Christmas, at the Vogtle 3 & 4 new reactors construction site in Waynesboro, GA, and at Fermi 2, laughed all the way to the bank.


Massive cost overruns and long construction delays plunge Toshiba-Westinghouse into "nuclear nightmare"

See Beyond Nuclear's posts and updates, including links to major business press coverage (Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, etc.), regarding Toshiba-Westinghouse Nuclear's loss of more than 40% of its share value in just a few short days, due to massive cost overruns, and long schedule delays, at new reactor construction projects in the U.S. (Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, Summer 2 & 3 in SC) as well as China.


TVA to sell off uncompleted Bellefonte nuclear power plant, losing 99% of investment

As reported by the Daily Caller News Foundation, the federal Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has decided to sell off its uncompleted Bellefonte, Alabama twin unit nuclear power plant, and site property, for $36 million. But TVA has invested $6 billion of ratepayer (and perhaps also federal taxpayer) money into the project over the past four decades.

After a decades-long abandonment of Bellefonte Units 1 and 2 atomic reactors, TVA's attempt to revive the project led to the label of "zombie reactors" by critics. In fact, TVA has previously sold off major components, which required their replacement. That effort has now turned out to have been a complete waste of time and money, as opponents had warned.

Meanwhile, TVA is poised to connect Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee to the electric grid. It would be the first atomic reactor start up in the U.S. in 20 years, since Watts Bar Unit 1 in 1996.

Watts Bar 1 took 23 years from groundbreaking to grid connection (1973 to 1996).

Watts Bar 2 has taken 43 years already (1973 to 2016), and has not yet achieved grid connection.

How nuclear power is supposed to avert a looming climate catastrophe, when atomic reactors take a quarter-century to half-century to complete, is not exactly clear. That's when it's "successful."

What about the astronomical costs of nuclear power plant failures, as at Bellefonte, AL? How much real greenhouse gas reductions could have been achieved through energy efficiency and renewables like wind and solar, had $6 billion not been wasted at Bellefonte?!


Former Rep. David Hobson: Not Cutting MOX Is My "Biggest Regret"

The MOX facility, still under construction, in October 2015 (Photo: © High Flyer, Special to SRS Watch)In a blog post at the website of Project on Government Oversight (POGO), David Hobson, former Republican U.S. Congressman from Ohio, and former Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, has described the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site in South Carolina as "the biggest, baddest earmark of all time," and his failure to nix it, despite grave concerns, as his "biggest regret."

(A Feb. 8th New York Times article quotes Hobson on MOX, and features the High Flyer/SRS Watch photo to the left.)

MOX was originally a Bill Clinton administration program -- a so-called "non-proliferation" initiative, in collaboration with Russia, for the U.S. to "dispose" of tens of tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium, by converting it into civilian nuclear power plant fuel.

Astoundingly, what was supposed to have cost $1.6 billion and taken three years to build, has now been under construction for 16 years, and cost $4.5 billion -- with no end in sight. (The New York Times article above gives 2040 as the estimated completion date for the MOX plant -- 37 years after its original due date.)

As Hobson reports:

[E]stimates for finishing the job range between $25 billion and a staggering $114 billion. Not only is the project more than one-thousand percent over cost and years behind schedule, the MOX facility lacks even a single U.S. utility customer for its commercial reactor fuel.

Hobson also states:

It should be acknowledged that the US can continue to uphold its agreement with Russia without the MOX facility. The Department of Energy has identified several alternative strategies to dispose of the plutonium that have been independently verified to be more cost effective, timely, and safer.

Critics of MOX, including NIRS, Don't Waste MI, and many others, argued two decades ago for such an "alternative strategy," rather than the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. Their preferred non-proliferation alternative to nix MOX was to mix the weapons-grade plutoium back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and then dispose of the mixture as the forever deadly radioactive waste as part of the national high-level radioactive waste disposal program. Plutonium never should have been considered a commercial commodity, given its inherent safety and security risks.

In addition to POGO and Taxpayers for Common Sense, as Hobson acknowledges in his blog post, groups like Don't Waste MI, and First Nations in Ontario and Quebec, opposed MOX from the start.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. court in Kalamazoo, MI before federal judge Richard Enslen, by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, on behalf of Don't Waste MI -- Alice Hirt v. Bill Richardson -- sought to block the lead test assembly for the MOX program. Lodge won a 10-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), due to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) failure to fulfill its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) duties to carry out an environmental assessment of the risks.

However, DOE was able to overcome the legal resistance and force the Los Alamos, NM to Chalk River, ON "safe, secure" truck shipment (usually reserved for nuclear weapons transports) through Michigan in Jan. 2000. 

But, a threatened "human chain" on First Nations territory in Ontario led U.S. and Canadian authorities to finish the final leg of the shipment by helicopter. This would have been illegal in U.S. airspace, under U.S. law. Instead, it took place just across the border, in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario.

The transfer from truck to helicopter was carried out under armed guard by U.S. Marine Reservists on Canadian soil, in Sault Saint Marie, ON -- much to the chagrin of certain Canadian Members of Parliament. The helicopter shipment took place, even though the container holding the weapons-grade MOX lead test assembly was not certified for air transport -- raising the specter that, had the air shipment crashed, the container would have released its ultra-hazardous contents into the environment.

The person at DOE in charge of the MOX program during President Clinton's administration, and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's tenure, was Laura Holgate. Holgate is now a high ranking member of President Obama's National Security Council, assigned very sensitive non-proliferation duties at the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

As Hobson's blog post mentions, the George W. Bush administration, and its DOE, fully embraced MOX as well -- defending its continuance as essential to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's re-election bid. (Sanford lost the governorship due to an extra-marital affair scandal, but later won election to the U.S. House.) Instead, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility has become an astronomically expensive "make work" jobs program in South Carolina, at federal taxpayer expense.

Nukewatch South/NIRS/Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and their expert witness, Dr. Ed Lyman from Union of Concerned Scientists, have officially intervened and watchdogged the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility's safety and security risks for well over a decade. Their contention focuses on Material Control & Accounting. The intervention still goes on.

The biggest irony of the MOX mega-boondoggle is that immobilization would likely have been completed by now, for a fraction of the taxpayer money already wasted. (DOE managed to accomplish vitrification at the West Valley, NY reprocessing facility, for example, although vitrification at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State has gone very badly, thus far.) Thus, MOX has been entirely counter-productive as a non-proliferation policy, as critics warned two decades ago.