The Nuclear Retreat

We coined the term, "Nuclear Retreat" here at Beyond Nuclear to counter the nuclear industry's preposterous "nuclear renaissance" propaganda campaign. You've probably seen "Nuclear Retreat" picked up elsewhere and no wonder - the alleged nuclear revival so far looks more like a lot of running away. On this page we will keep tabs on every latest nuclear retreat as more and more proposed new nuclear programs are canceled.



A nuclear boondoggle by any other name is still a boondoggle: then, now, forever 

For those learning English around the globe, Voice Of America (VOA) broadcast a new language lesson by telling the story of the latest crash landing of the financially out-of-control V.C. Summer atomic power construction project. South Carolina electric utilities had to call it quits on two half-finished Westinghouse Electric AP-1000 reactors with sunk costs between $ 9 billion and $11 billion, six years behind schedule, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, possibly parent company Toshiba and nowhere near knowing how much more and how much longer it might take to finish. When VOA contacted Beyond Nuclear, the producer was looking for some historical perspective on the industry’s latest financial meltdown in the 21st Century from the anti-nuclear movement that began in the 1970’s. 

As one co-founding activist with the Clamshell Alliance in New England, we all became familiar with “You can be sure, if it’s Westinghouse” to mean that it is going to be very, very expensive and way behind schedule.  The “Clams” literally opposed the first groundbreaking shovel full next to the environmentally sensitive saltwater estuary in Seabrook, New Hampshire. In August 1976 there were two non-violent site occupations on the construction site organized by “affinity groups” and several large, legal assemblies to rally the public and inspire more principled resistance. The two Westinghouse 1150 megawatt electric pressurized water reactors were promised to Public Service Company at $450 million each. Fourteen years later and thousands of arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience and four bankrupted electric utilities, the final estimated construction cost of completion for Unit 1 in 1990 was close to $7 billion. Unit 2 construction was permanently cancelled in 1989 with an estimated $900 million in sunk costs. The Seabrook boondoggle was not an isolated event nor were Westinghouse reactors the only designs that lost control of cost-to-completion and time-to-completion. More than 120 units of nation’s nuclear power plant construction orders and projects of 1970’s and 1980’s, roughly half, were cancelled or abandoned with tens of billions of dollars in sunk cost. As Forbes reported in the magazine’s February 11, 1985 cover story headlined “Nuclear Follies,” “The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale. The utility industry has already invested $125 billion in nuclear power … only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money has been well spent.”

So when the nuclear power industry announced it would venture back into the financial quagmire it should have immediately been recognized as folly. Nuclear power promoters ignored the warning signs and the tombstones in reframing a financial disaster into a “renaissance.” Nuclear power plant construction came at with such risk, all the major financial institutions warned that merely announcing construction would result in the downgrade of the company’s credit.  In 2006, a Standard & Poor’s analysis of nuclear power development found “nuclear generation generally to have the highest overall business risk compared with other types of generation.” By 2007, Moody’s Investment Services acknowledged that this growing risk was due to the “size and complexity of the project, the long-term nature of the construction cycle and the uncertainties associated with all-in [total] costs, regulatory oversight” and many other unknowns. A 2009 report by Citigroup GlobalMarkets Inc. entitled “New Nuclear – The Economics Say No,” identified that construction costs, power price and operational costs for new reactors are large and variable enough so as to be dubbed “The Three Corporate Killers.”

Historically, the nuclear power ad men are skilled at re-imaging the same technology without legitimately addressing its fundamental economic failure, inherent dangers and long term despoiling of the environment. Splitting atoms to make steam to generate electricity remains an extremely wasteful use of energy. Only 33% of the heat in the fission process actually goes into making electricity while the remaining 67% has to be dumped into the environment to keep the reactor core from melting. The electricity industry is the leading consumer of increasingly precious water resources with a single nuclear power station consumes up to three billion gallons per day.  The extreme cost of inefficiency and wasteful resource consumption has never been and never will be sustainable. 

The industry is now eager to send politicians and consumers chasing yet another illusive and extremely expensive mirage, unproven Small Modular Reactors. The results should be expected to be no different. A handful of industrialists will walk off with tons of taxpayer and ratepayer money and fissile power projects will fizzle out in cancelled and abandoned projects. After repeatedly failing to demonstrate their argument for generating nuclear power on “economy of scale,” the industry now intends to sell its new notion that giant assembly lines in astronomically expensive factories will re-make the economics nuclear power competitive. In fact, it is a merely re-writing the prescription for financial disaster at the expensive of ratepayers and taxpayers. 


Money and time wasted and no new reactor designs to show for it

The majority of pro-nuclear boosters appear finally to have swallowed a dose of reality -- and have ceased clinging to the idea that "new nuclear power plants" and even "new reactor designs" will be the energy answer of the near future. The error- and omission-filled pro-new-nuclear propaganda piece, Pandora's Promise, was out of date almost as soon as it was released. Even its producers and stars have jumped ship and instead now clamor to keep old, economically failing and technically deteriorating nuclear plants going, just to justify a continued existence.

In a telling piece of research -- A retrospective analysis of funding and focus in US advanced fission innovation -- by Abdulla et al, a look was taken at how US spending has affected nuclear power development and new reactor design. Unsurprisingly, the authors noted that: 

"despite spending $2 billion since the late 1990s—no advanced design is ready for deployment. Even if the program had been well designed, it still would have been insufficient to demonstrate even one non-light water technology. It has violated much of the wisdom about the effective execution of innovative programs: annual funding varies fourfold, priorities are ephemeral, incumbent technologies and fuels are prized over innovation, and infrastructure spending consumes half the budget. Absent substantial changes, the possibility of US-designed advanced reactors playing a role in decarbonization by mid-century is low." [emphasis added.]

As the authors also explained in their conclusion: 

"In this paper, we do not seek to present a comprehensive diagnosis of the problems facing nuclear energy innovation in the US. Rather, we have reconstructed NE’s budget history and evaluated how close the office has come to achieving its advanced reactor mission. Our research shows that, as currently structured, NE has neither the funding levels nor the programmatic focus that it needs to deliver on its mission of developing and demonstrating one or two advanced reactor designs by mid-century. This comes despite multiple strategy roadmaps and billions of dollars of appropriations."

The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that enough money and time has already been wasted on a failed technology that has zero role to play in our energy present or future.


How The Dream Of America's 'Nuclear Renaissance' Fizzled


New U.S. reactor construction collapses because it's “prohibitively expensive”: the fight for justice continues

South Carolina electric utilities have scrapped finishing construction for two half-built Westinghouse reactors admitting that nuclear power is “prohibitively expensive.” The abandonment of the V.C. Summer Units 2 and 3 in Jenkinsville, SC comes with an estimated $11 billion in sunk costs and still a projected six years behind schedule. The cancellation adds to the growing number of tombstones for once championed “milestones” in an atomic power revival. The inability to control the “cost-of-completion” and “time-to-completion” is the fundamental economic failure behind this recent collapse of the nuclear industry. In fact, these same reasons were featured in a 1985 Forbes magazine cover story “Nuclear Follies” describing the development of commercial atomic power as “the largest managerial disaster in U.S. business history where only the blind and the biased can say the money was well spent.”

There is not one nuclear power project in the United States that has ever been built on budget and on time, only more or less grossly out of proportion. The country is littered with the abandoned hulks of the 20th Century’s "nuclear error” including Seabrook Unit 2 in New Hampshire, Shoreham in New York, Midland in Michigan, the “Whoops” reactors in Washington, Bellefonte in Alabama, Marble Hill in Indiana and Zimmer in Ohio. These sites stand as monuments to nearly 100 more cancelled construction projects.   

The recent collapse of V.C. Summer 2 &3 now weighs heavier on the only remaining new reactor construction in the U.S. at Vogtle units 3 and 4 in Waynesboro, Georgia. With the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric and still mounting financial trouble for its Japan-based parent company Toshiba, Southern Company and Georgia Power were handed the dubious oversight and management of construction by the U.S. Department of Energy for the two Westinghouse reactors still being built there. The fate of the Vogtle boondoogle is still uncertain even with Toshiba giving $3.7 billion to Southern Company to contractually cut loose of the project and spread the cost out over more owners. Just how much and how long it will take to complete the untested design remain inescapable questions.  Southern Company's new projected cost-of-completion for Vogtle has balloned to $25 billion.  Southern is under pressure to tell the Georgia Public Service Commission by end of 2017 whether it plans to go forward with completion of the Vogtle expansion.  

The repeated and predictable economic failure of atomic power sends an ever direr warning of the shear folly in wasting billions more dollars and decades longer only to predictably fall short in the challenge to abate climate change. Again, nuclear power is exposed as an unreliable partner in any “energy mix” with renewable power from the wind and sun, energy efficiency and conservation. Nuclear power, new and old, only serves to divert and deplete necessary resources and squander the precious little time that remains.

The collapse of the nuclear industry further lay bare the economic and environmental justice struggles still ahead to hold corporations accountable to greed, fraud and desecration.

Accolades are much deserved to the environmental and consumer protection groups that have been involved from the beginning with the proposed Summer and Vogtle expansions. These same organizations are now demanding ratepayer restitution and protection from still more fleecing.

As Tom Clements, South Carolina’s advisor to Friends of the Earth (FoE) puts it, “The decision to abandon the V.C. Summer project is of monumental proportion and is a full admission that pursuit of the project was a fool’s mission right from the start.” According to Clements, the abandonment of construction now portends a fight for economic justice where, “Rather than applauding the decision this is a time for reflection and to prepare for formal proceedings before the PSC that will review how this debacle happened and how to refund ratepayers money due to a string of imprudent decisions.”

Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Safe Energy (SACE) is wondering how much longer it will take Southern Company to pull the plug on Vogtle 3 and 4. Still she continues the call for “stopping the forced draining of customers’ wallets” there. Indeed, as Barazk observes for V.C. Summer, “A very costly door has closed on the so-called nuclear renaissance” and the awaited announced cancellation of Vogtle 3 and 4.


Nuclear power's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year

M.V. Ramana and Suvrat Raj sum up perfecty the thankfully dreadful year just experienced by the waning nuclear power industry:

"By all accounts, nuclear power has had a bad year. In March, Westinghouse, the largest historic builder of nuclear power plants in the world, declared bankruptcy, creating a major financial crisis for its parent company, Toshiba. The French nuclear supplier, Areva, went bankrupt a few months earlier and is now in the midst of a restructuring that will cost French taxpayers about €10 billion. Its reactor business is being taken over by a clutch of companies, including the public sector Électricité de France, which is itself in poor financial health. In May, the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced that it expects the share of nuclear electricity in the U.S. to decline from about 20% in 2016 to 11% by 2050. The newly elected Presidents of Korea and France have both promised to cut the share of nuclear energy in their countries. And the Swiss just voted to phase out nuclear power." Read the full article.