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Georgia Nuclear Power Project on the Brink — Is U.S. Nuclear Energy in Trouble?

by Axios | 9.25.18

A troubled, over-budget project to build two new nuclear reactors in Georgia is still alive after a high-stakes vote by co-owners yesterday — but maybe for not much longer.

What to watch: The parties have set a deadline of 5 p.m. today to try and hash out a deal.

Why it matters: It's the only commercial reactor project currently under construction in the country, and as we noted yesterday, its demise would be a further blow to the industry that has seen its hopes for a U.S. renaissance fade.

Where it stands: Last night Oglethorpe Power announced a "conditional vote" to move forward with ongoing construction of the Southern Company-led expansion of the Vogtle site.

  • The company statement came hours after the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia announced its continued support, joining previous moves by Southern subsidiary Georgia Power and Dalton Utilities (which has a small share).

Yes, but: Oglethorpe, which has a 30% stake in the project, is demanding steps to limit its exposure to future cost overruns, per their statement.

  • The budget for the project, which is years behind schedule, recently swelled by another $2.3 billion and now stands at roughly $27 billion.
  • One scenario, they said, is a "cap at the current project budget (inclusive of the $2.3 billion budget increase) but allows for an additional $800 million to be added to the contingency, raising it to $1.6 billion."

The intrigue: Oglethorpe CEO Mike Smith says in their statement, "Southern Company should be willing to bear further risk of [Southern Nuclear Corp.'s] missed budgets, not our members."

But close to midnight yesterday, Southern subsidiary Georgia Power, which has a nearly 46% share of the project, balked at Oglethorpe's demands. Oglethorpe has "demanded concessions to avoid obligations that it undertook when it became an owner of the project," the company said in a separate statement.

Ben Geman

Photo: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Axios

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(15)
  • Leo
    09/25/2018
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    Fission plants have not proven cost effective and produce extremely dangerous waste.

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  • Brad
    09/25/2018
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    Nuclear is the most expensive energy. We need renewables.

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  • Lisa
    09/26/2018
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    Too many could be targets for war. We can’t protect or destroy the waste. It is not worth it. Renewable energy ..isn’t it worth an all out try?

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  • Tooluser1
    09/26/2018
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    The fear and ignorance here in the comments are why regulatory strangulation has stifled innovation and is killing the single "greenest" energy source available. Nuclear power is safer and more environmentally friendly than ANY other form of power generation. The scientifically illiterate fearmongering against nuclear energy is doing more environmental harm than oil, gas, and coal combined.

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  • Travis
    10/28/2018
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    Thorium molten salt reactors. Look it up.

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  • Robert
    09/26/2018
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    I hope they shut down all nuclear plants three reasons for my feeling this way. Three mile island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Enough is enough

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  • Sandra
    09/26/2018
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    Nuclear power has NEVER been a good idea, it is WAY too dangerous not only the plants themselves (just ask the Japanese people about this) but, there is also NO way to safely deal with the waste. With every plant just being an accident waiting to happen, what about the nuclear material that they have buried or have thrown into the sea?

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  • Karen
    09/26/2018
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    Yes. Because there is nowhere to store the used plutonium (hot) rods that must be kept in water or they will explode into a mushroom cloud and rain radioactive material for hundreds of miles around the area. Like Chernobyl. There is an idiotic plan hatched by Texas Rep. Mike Conaway (recently Leader of the Infamous House Judiciary Committee when Devin Nunez was thrown out) to bring all the high level nuclear waste from all over the country by railcar to a tiny town in West Texas named Andrews and another site close to the Carlsbad National Park and “temporarily” store this highly radioactive waste in steel-lined cement casks, above ground, where they can be seen by any aircraft or drone, found by any ground transportation and let them sit there — for up to 40 years — while they try to figure out what to do with it and where to put it permanently. Oh, and one railcar has the equivalent of spent rods or plutonium that was in the atomic bomb we dropped on Nagasaki. And each railcar weighs 193,000 metric tons. Our railways are only rated to carry a max load of 173,000 metric tons/car. These rail cars will be going through every large city in America, past schools, businesses, homes, military bases, waterways. What’s going to happen when there’s a spill? The House has already passed a Bill changing the DOT laws to allow the transportation of this High Level Radioactive Waste. What do you think?

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  • Lynne
    09/25/2018
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    No. Our grids are fine. Things flux is all.

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  • Robert j.
    09/25/2018
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    Nucs struggle to contain costs. But they don’t emit carbon. Should we?

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  • Richard
    09/26/2018
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    As a biased engineer I’m fully behind nuclear power. Safe care of “waste” has been proposed and possible for more than 20 years but for politics. Otherwise they’re 100% pollution free. Maybe we should use once again that which Israel uses even in desalinization. California could use that too. Safety is no longer a danger. Think of Navy men who on submarines sleep next to a reactor since the Nautilus in about 1954 — safely!

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  • Jim2423
    09/26/2018
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    Neuclar power is one of the best Peak power sources we have. Yes it is more expensive than natural gas but cleaner than coal. Natural resources can add to the grid capacity, but never would be sustainably operate the grid. When you look at the carbon foot print for wind and solar, not much of a gain compared to Neuclar. But we really should be looking at European systems. They use a lot of necular for their grid, then each home has solar and natural gas which operates a boiler for house heat and a generator to feed the home. Almost totally independent of the grid.

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  • Susan
    09/26/2018
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    I hope not. Many countries have been using Nuclear energy very successfully over many years.

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  • Ross
    09/26/2018
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    So...we can build a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, but can’t seem to wrap this thing up

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