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.



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.


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.