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.



Trigaux: Blind to runaway costs, nuclear power industry abandons another nuke plant

Business column in the Tampa Bay Times, by Robert Trigaux.

Reporting on the cancellation of two partially built, proposed new reactors in South Carolina, Trigaux notes "It all adds up to another black eye — and there have been many — for nuclear power in the United States."

He then quotes Peter Bradford on the dismal financial history of ultimately abandoned atomic reactor construction projects in the U.S.:

"South Carolina is joining a dozen other U.S. states with multibillion-dollar ruins in the place of promised nuclear plants," stated Peter Bradford, a former commissioner of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a frequent critic of the industry's mismanagement.

"From Seabrook 2 and Shoreham in the Northeast to Midland, Marble Hill and Zimmer in the Midwest, to the Washington Public Power Supply System in the Northwest and back across the country to Clinch River and Bellefonte in Tennessee in Alabama and Levy County in Florida," he said, "the list of cancelled billion-dollar nuclear plants represents mountains of money that could have contributed to useful energy infrastructure."


"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.


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)

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.


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.