Why You’ve Heard of Solyndra, but not Vogtle
January 2, 2013
The Kochtopus media machine has made sure that the misfires of a burgeoning new industry, Solar energy, have become household names. Solyndra is the best example of non-scandals that Fox & Friends have tried hard to pump into something substantial.
Meanwhile, backed by a loan guarantee 15 times as large as the one Solyndra got, the new Vogtle Nuclear project has been quietly plowing ahead in Georgia. Inevitably, the same types of tiresome and monotonous glitches, snafus and gremlins so familiar to nuclear industry observers have been cropping up and bogging down the ill considered project.
Those still looking for a nuclear revival would do well to consider what those of us paying attention knew a long time ago. This stuff is just too damn complex, ponderous, and expensive to compete. But don’t expect to hear much about it on Fox & Friends.
The first newly licensed nuclear-power plant to be built in the U.S. in decades, the Vogtle project in Georgia, has run into construction problems and may be falling years behind schedule, according to an engineering expert advising the state.
The $14 billion plant is being closely watched by energy experts as a bellwether for the rebirth of the U.S. nuclear industry, because it involves a new type of nuclear reactor and a modular construction method that are supposed to reduce construction time and cost.
But a construction monitor warned in a report to the Georgia Public Service Commission this month that the plant, which will be operated by Southern Co. SO -1.21% on behalf of several utilities, was falling behind schedule because of what he called an unsatisfactory performance by its construction team.
The expert hired to monitor the project, Bill Jacobs of engineering consultancy GDS Associates Inc., advised the regulators to brace for a potentially costly delay of two to four years. The two-reactor plant was initially scheduled to put its first reactor into service in 2016 but now expects that to happen in 2017.
Joseph “Buzz” Miller, executive vice president for Southern Nuclear, said Southern knew there were risks going into the project. “We haven’t built [reactors] in 30 years,” he noted.
Southern already was facing criticism from consumer groups that Georgia customers’ power needs could be met more cheaply by natural-gas-fired power plants and through conservation efforts.
Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said he wants to see the plant finished but said consumers shouldn’t have to pay for the builders’ “learning curve.”
Private lenders have declined to finance new reactors because of the enormously high cost of new nuclear power and the substantial risk that any such investment will fail. In 2003, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the chance of a loan for new nuclear reactor construction resulting in default would be “very high – well over 50 percent.”
The Obama administration’s proposed loan guarantee for Vogtle transfers the risk onto American taxpayers, who would pay up to $8.33 billion if Southern Company and its partners run into the same kind of trouble that is routine in the nuclear power industry-cost overruns, delays and project cancellations.
And Vogtle does have a history that should trouble taxpayers worried about assuming responsibility for the massive loan guarantee: the original two reactors at the Georgia site took almost 15 years to build, came in 1,200 percent over budget and resulted in the largest rate hike at the time in Georgia.
Why should we expect Southern Company to be any better at controlling costs now than back in the 1970s and 1980s when its original nukes on the Savannah River went massively over budget? Massively as in 26 times as much per unit as originally projected.
Kristi Swartz wrote for the AJC 30 Jan 2012, A financial look at Plant Vogtle nuclear projects,
“When the two original nuclear units at Plant Vogtle were planned, the total cost estimate was $660 million..”
The plant took almost 15 years to move from blueprints to being operational. And by the time it began producing electricity in the late 1980’s, its total cost, $8.87 billion, was so far overbudget that Vogtle became yet another notorious example of the evils of nuclear energy….
The grand plan was to have four reactors. Instead, it was scaled back to two, Vogtle Unit 1 (finished in 1987) and Vogtle Unit 2 (1989).
That’s right, 4 nuclear units were planned for $660,000,000 fifteen (15) years later only 2 units were built, for $8,870,000,000. That’s more than $8 billion in cost overruns, or more than 13 times the original cost estimate. So per unit, that’s more than 26 times the original estimate, or more than $4 billion per unit.
And of course that $8,870,000,000 is in 1987 dollars. In 2012 dollars that would be about $17,976,000,000. Or about $9 billion a unit.
The stock excuse for nuclear contractors way back when was the staggering cost of constantly changing Nuclear building standards and regulations. Of course, one of the reasons those costs became so staggering is that many of these projects were still under construction when the Three Mile Island accident shone a bright spotlight on glaring design deficiencies that citizens groups and independent scientists had been shouting about for a decade.