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Financial History

The U.S. nuclear power industry has a chequered financial history that involves huge cost over-runs and vast financial subsidies - some estimates run as high as $500 billion over its 50-year history.

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Friday
Mar282014

RMI: "Nuclear Power's Competitive Landscape and Climate Opportunity Cost"

Amory B. Lovins, Cofounder and Chief Scientist, RMITitiaan Palazzi, Special Aid, RMIAmory B. Lovins, Cofounder and Chief Scientist, and Titiaan Palazzi, Special Aid (photos, left), of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, CO, presented "Nuclear Power's Competitive Landscape and Climate Opportunity Cost" at "Three Mile Island 35th Anniversary Symposium: The Past, Present, and Future of Nuclear Energy" held at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, on 28 March 2014.

Lovins and Palazzi report that, when compared to nuclear power: (1) Efficiency and renewables are far cheaper; (2) Renewables can deliver similar or better service and reliability; (3) Renewables can scale faster;  and (4) For climate protection, efficiency and renewables are far more effective solutions than new nuclear build, which indeed is counterproductive.

Lovins and Palazzi's economic critique extends not only to proposed new atomic reactors, but even to existing, age-degraded reactors. They state "Reactors are promoted as costly to build but cheap to run. Yet as Daniel Allegretti ably described, many existing, long-paid-for U.S. reactors are now starting to be shut down because just their operating cost can no longer compete with wholesale power prices, typically depressed by gas-fired plants or windpower."

Lovins and Palazzi also discuss the financial history of nuclear power, extending back decades. They point out that U.S. nuclear power orders collapsed before Three Mile Island partially melted down on March 28, 1979, and that 40% of U.S. nuclear-unit cancellations occurred before then, due to economic challenges.

Lovins and Palazzi conclude that "efficiency is clearly cheaper than average nuclear operating costs, which exceed 4¢/kWh [4 cents per kilowatt-hour] at the busbar and 8¢ delivered. Thus overall, for saving coal plants’ carbon emissions, efficiency is about 10–50x more cost-effective than new nuclear build—or about 2–12x more cost-effective than just operating the average U.S. nuclear plant."

Regarding nuclear power's retreat, Lovins and Palazzi report:

"Nuclear power also has to run ever faster to stay in the same place as its 1970s and 1980s growth turns into a bulge  of retirements. After the next few years, retirements will exceed all planned or conceivable global nuclear additions, even with all license extensions as shown here. Power reactors’ terminal decline will be over by about 2060—and in view of both competition and aging, this projection by Mycle Schneider [Mycle Schneider et al., World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013] is more likely to overstate its longevity than its brevity."
They conclude their presentation by stating: "So whether you choose e fficiency, cogeneration, or renewables, just being nearly carbon-free does not make new nuclear build an effective climate solution. Rather, because it saves ~3–50x less carbon per dollar than its main competitors, and deploys slower, new nuclear build reduces and retards climate protection. If climate is a problem, we must invest judiciously, not indiscriminately, to get the most solution per dollar and per year. Anything less makes the problem worse. Nor do we need nuclear power to offset PVs’ and windpower’s variability, or to scale faster than renewables, or to save or make money, because, as we’ve seen, nuclear power cannot do any of these things. So there is no reason to build more nuclear plants. Capital markets, seeing big new costs and risks without offsetting benefits, long ago reached the same conclusion. Existing nuclear plants, a future idea whose time has passed, will simply retire; the only choice is how quickly and at what cost to whom. End of story." (bold added)
Thursday
Feb202014

DOE signs $6.5 billion federal nuclear loan guarantee for Vogtle 3 & 4

Aerial image of Plant Vogtle Nuclear Generating Station - photo credit to High Flyer. The photo shows the operating Units 1 and 2, as well as the construction site for proposed new Units 3 and 4.U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz has announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) will sign an agreement with Southern Co. and Oglethorpe Power for a $6.5 billion loan guarantee that puts federal taxpayers on the hook if the Vogtle 3 & 4 new reactor project defaults on its loan repayments. This, despite the fact that the project is seriously over budget and behind schedule, as has been so common in the history of nuclear power. The sluggish construction has only been able to slog along thus far due to gouging of ratepayers via Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) surcharges on their electricity bills, illegal in most states.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will speak at the proposed new reactor construction site at 2 PM Eastern today, Thursday, Feb. 20th (you can listen to his address by calling 1-800-282-1696).

President Obama gave the Vogtle 3 & 4 federal loan guarantee offer (for a total of $8.3 billion) the highest profile possible, by announcing it himself at a press event in Feb. 2010. Despite this, it has taken over four years for the project proponents to sign on the dotted line, given their reluctance to put any of their own "skin in the game," in the form of credit subsidy fees. The nuclear loan guarantee program was authorized in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, and $22.5 billion was approved by Congress and George W. Bush for new nuclear facilities on Dec. 23, 2007 ($18.5 billion for new reactors, $4 billion for new uranium enrichment).

The $8.3 billion Vogtle 3 & 4 federal loan guarantee is 15 times bigger than the infamous Solyndra solar loan guarantee, which defaulted on its loan repayment, a $585 million loss to the U.S. Treasury. But the Vogtle 3 & 4 loan guarantee is at much higher financial risk of default than was the Solyndra solar project!

Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter blasted the deal in a Common Dreams interview. Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) also blasted the deal in a press release. Harvey Wasserman has penned an essay entitled "Obama's Nuke-Powered Drone Strike on America's Energy Future."

Please contact President Obama and Energy Secretary Moniz, registering your disapproval of this $6.5 billion nuclear loan guarantee, and urging them not to grant the remaining $1.8 billion nuclear loan guarantee to project partner MEAG for Vogtle 3 & 4. Also urge them to withdraw any further nuclear loan guarantee offers, with the remaining $10.2 billion authorized for new reactors, and $4 billion authorized for new uranium enrichment.

But the federal nuclear loan guarantees, and even the CWIP charges which are gouging Georgia ratepayers, are not the only subsidies benefitting this proposed new reactor project. If Vogtle 3 & 4 do get built and operated, the George W. Bush DOE also obligated U.S. taxpayers to ultimate liability for the risks and costs of the high-level radioactive waste they would generate. DOE hastily signed the contract in the last days of the Bush administration, despite the fact that federal courts are awarding $500 million per year in damages to nuclear utilities for DOE's breach of contract for failing to begin taking title to irradiated nuclear fuel in 1998 under the contractual agreements signed in the mid-1980s. The hastily signed contacts were exposed by D.C. attorney Diane Curran, IEER President Arjun Makhijani, and Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps in a March 24, 2010 press conference based on a FOIA Request.

Wednesday
Jan012014

Vogtle nuclear loan guarantee drags into fifth round of delays

Aerial image of Plant Vogtle Nuclear Generating Station - photo credit to High Flyer. The photo shows the operating Units 1 and 2, as well as the construction site for proposed new Units 3 and 4.As reported by Platts, and conveyed in a Friends of the Earth press release, the December 31, 2013 U.S. Department of Energy deadline for finalization of the $8.3 billion federal taxpayer backed nuclear loan guarantee for Vogtle 3 & 4 has been extended yet again, for a fifth time, until the end of January, 2014.

As reported by FOE: "Freedom of Information Act requests and litigation revealed that the credit subsidy fee offered to Southern Company ranged from 0.8 to 1.5 percent. The credit subsidy fee is supposed to insulate against default, but the fee offered to Southern Company is woefully inadequate to cover the risks involved in major nuclear construction. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 32 percent of reactor construction is cancelled before any electricity is produced."

Watchdog groups have long called for a credit subsidy fee commensurate with the risk of the nuclear new build proposals. Congressional auditors reported several years ago that new reactors, historically, have had a 50% risk of cancellation and potential default. The Vogtle 3 & 4 nuclear loan guarantee puts 15 times more taxpayer money at risk than did the Solyndra loan guarantee scandal, which had a significantly lower risk of default than does Vogtle 3 & 4.

Vogtle 1 & 2 were the poster children for cost overruns in decades past, coming in with a price tag 1,300 percent higher than originally estimated! Vogtle 3 & 4's price tag has also skyrocketed over the past several years.

The only way that Vogtle 3 & 4 have proceeded this far is that Georgia lawmakers made legal what is illegal in most states: the gouging of ratepayers on their electricity bills with "Construction Work in Progress" (CWIP) surcharges for the building of the new reactors. This makes ratepayers unwilling investors, who receive no share of the profits that are made -- at who are put at risk of losing every penny invested, if the project ever goes belly up. Ratepayers in Florida just experienced this at the Levy new build site -- $1.5 billion lost, and nothing to show for it.

Given the Obama administration offered the $8.3 billion nuclear loan guarantee nearly four years ago, and now this latest delay, concerns continue to mount that the project is a financial house of cards, and will ultimately leave taxpayers holding the bag. Nuclear Watch South has called for taxpayers to express their concerns to decision makers, as has Beyond Nuclear.

Saturday
Aug032013

Nuclear revolving door gobbles up billions of dollars of ratepayers' money, threatening to move onto taxpayers next!

Commissioner Geoffrey Merrifield's NRC file photoWhile still a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioner, Geoffrey Merrifield did the nuclear power industry a big favor. He spearheaded a seemingly simple, but significant, change in NRC regulations, which paved the way for new reactor construction, unfettered by bothersome environmental safeguards. Merrifield shephered through a change in the definition of the word "construction." Now, nuclear utilities could build any aspect of a nuclear power plant, save for the reactor and its containment building, without having to first complete an environmental impact statement, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Thus, large aspects of a new reactor construction job -- such as foundation excavations for the reactor complex, or construction of the turbine building -- could proceed apace, building "facts on the ground," and momentum that would be hard to stop.

 

Merrifield capped such corruption by leaving NRC immediately after his dirty work, and going to work for the Shaw Group, which specializes in -- you guessed it -- new reactor construction! This example of the nuclear revolving door between supposed government regulator and industry even made a number of senior managers at NRC uneasy about Merrifield's blatant, self-serving conflict of interest.

 

Now, as reported by the Atlanta Progressive News, to such corruption must be added incompetence, raising not only financial risks, into the billions of dollars, but radiological risks that could impact millions of lives:

 

'...Chicago Bridge and Iron (CB&I), formerly known as Shaw Modular Solutions, makes modules being used to assemble four Westinghouse AP1000 reactors being built at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in South Carolina.

“CB&I is unable to provide properly constructed modules... and [have demonstrated a] continued inability to reliably meet the quality and schedule requirements of the project," Barbara Antonoplos, a ratepayer, testified, citing a report from the utility's regulatory staff in South Carolina.

"These problems have existed from the beginning and been raised in every other CB&I hearing and still there is no fix... they [Georgia Power] still do not have a competent outfit making parts and once the new parts get delivered to Vogtle, they are repairing them to make them acceptable.  This alarms me because incompetence of this magnitude breeds disaster especially when it comes to construction of a nuclear device. There is no way these reactors can be considered safe... when ‘patch it together’ is the best construction model they are able to come up with," Antonoplos said.

"Ongoing failures of this sort result in escalating cost and I don't believe you should force ratepayers to foot the bill for such gross incompetence," Antonoplos said.

Southern Company’s projections do not include the cost of the lawsuit they’re engaged in with their contractor, The Shaw Group/Chicago Bridge and Iron, nor the full cost of not getting Federal Loan Guarantees, for which the negotiation deadline has been extended three times according to Georgia WAND's website...'

Alex Flint, NEI's Senior Vice President for Governmental AffairsSpeaking of nuclear revolving doors and federal loan guarantees, the top lobbyist for the nuclear power industry, Alex Flint at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI, photo left), has passed through multiple times. For one, he "served" as the staff director on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, under Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), on whose personal staff Flint had previously "served." The ENR Committee hatched the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. In addition to the $13 billion of direct taxpayer subsidies in that bill aimed at promoting new atomic reactor development, Flint wrote the federal nuclear loan guarantee language. After the bill was enacted into law, Flint left "public service" and went to work at NEI, where he remains to this day.

In a very real sense, Flint wrote his own (likely high six-figure, if not more) paycheck, while "serving the public" -- up for dinner to the nuclear industry, that is!

In late 2007, $18.5 billion for new reactor loan guarantees, and another $4 billion in new uranium enrichment loan guarantees, were approved by Congress and George W. Bush. However, even though President Obama, in Feb. 2010, awarded $8.3 billion in new reactor loan guarantees for the proposed new Vogtle 3 & 4 reactors -- giving it the highest profile possible, by making the announcement himself -- Southern Co. has never agreed to the terms. Too much of its own "skin in the game" is being asked of it, for such a financially risky scheme. Thus, no nuclear loan guarantees have yet been finalized.

Saturday
Aug032013

"Advocates, Ratepayers Oppose Paying for Vogtle’s Cost Overruns"

Southern Co. photo of the proposed new reactors construction site at Plant Vogtle -- a giant rat hole down which billions of dollars of ratepayer money are being pouredAs reported by the Atlanta Progressive News, Georgia ratepayers, as well as groups such as Georgia Women's Action for New Directions and Nuclear Watch South, have testified before the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) against billion dollar cost overruns at Southern Company's construction site for proposed new reactors from being foisted onto customers' electricity bills:

'..."Many of the cost overruns are the result of mismanagement.  The company has said less than one percent of the increases in costs are from engineering procurement and construction.  These costs are results from mismanagement in paperwork and scheduling delays," Courtney Hanson, Director of Public Outreach at Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND), testified.

"Southern Company jumped the gun in seeking license for the whole project and the cost accrued because of design changes and license amendment requests.  They were not prepared when the process started and the cost reflects that.  This is a problem that happens over and over," John Michael, a ratepayer, testified.

"The cost overrun is not a new story and it is unfair for these cost overruns to be continually passed on to the ratepayers.  Last time [with Vogtle units one and two] we were promised four reactors for six hundred million dollars and we got two for over eight billion.  A company will never reduce costs if they continually have a blank check written to them," Amanda Hill-Attkisson, Managing Director of Georgia WAND, testified...

[Steve] Prenovitz, an expert in economics with Nuclear Watch South, challenged continuing the Vogtle project.  He raised the question over whether the public would be better served by cutting their losses on Vogtle before massive cost overruns in the future reach stratospheric numbers.'