Nuclear “Renaissance” Slips back to Dark Age

August 4, 2017

Above – Spoon-Tamago.com: 

The startling effects of the passage of time come into sharp focus in aerial images taken of Fukushima’s “difficult-to-return zones” in the seventh summer since the March 2011 nuclear disaster.
Tetsuro Takehana, an Asahi Shimbun photographer who lived in Fukushima Prefecture for 10 years in his childhood, takes photos of the desolate areas designated as “difficult-to-return zones.” The film was taken in late July. (Video taken by Tetsuro Takehana and Shigetaka Kodama)

Love it or hate it, this is what is for the US nuclear industry, right now.

WTLX – Columbia, South Carolina:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) – South Carolina’s two largest utility companies have pulled out of a project to build two billion-dollar nuclear reactors.

The reactors were set to be among the first new nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in decades. First, Santee Cooper’s board voted on Monday to stop construction. A short time later, SCE&G also said they’d abandon the project as well.

Santee Cooper owns 45 percent of the project, while South Carolina Electric & Gas owns 55 percent. That utility planned to update state regulators on Tuesday.

SCE&G said they made the decision based on the additional costs of the project, as well as other factors. It’s estimated about 18 percent of SCE&G customers’ bills went to financing the effort.

The project has been shrouded in doubt since earlier this year, when primary contractor Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy protection.

“We arrived at this very difficult but necessary decision following months of evaluating the project from all perspectives to determine the most prudent path forward,” said SCE&G Chairman and CEO Kevin Marsh. “Many factors outside our control have changed since inception of this project. Chief among them, the bankruptcy of our primary construction contractor, Westinghouse, eliminated the benefits of the fixed-price contract to our customers, investors, and other stakeholders.”

The utilities announced last week that Westinghouse’s parent company, Toshiba Corp., agreed to jointly pay them $2.2 billion regardless of whether the reactors are ever completed.

The reactors were planned for the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station north of Columbia in the town of Jenkinsville. SCE&G says they’ll likely have to pursue natural gas as a way to generate the power that the nuclear plant was to have created.

NYTimes:

A decade ago, industry officials were predicting a “nuclear renaissance” in a country that had not broken ground on a new reactor since the 1970s.

The South Carolina utilities selected an advanced reactor design from Westinghouse Electric Company, the AP1000, reported to have more safety features than earlier models. The utilities planned to build the two reactors next to an existing nuclear unit at the V.C. Summer plant in Fairfield County.

But pitfalls soon followed. Construction began before Westinghouse, a subsidiary of Toshiba of Japan, had finalized its AP1000 design, and several safety changes had to be made midway through the process. Engineers struggled with the complicated, novel project, as various components needed to be reworked.

“This was a first-of-a-kind project, so it was always going to be hard,” said Rich Powell, executive director of the ClearPath Foundation, a clean-energy group in Washington. “But you can also see this as a symptom of a broader problem. We’ve let our nuclear industry atrophy for 30 years, and we’ve lost the robust supply chains and expertise needed” in building reactors.

Last remaining plant under construction is Georgia’s Vogtle.  Also on thin ice.

Important to note – at no point in any reporting is there any indication that dirty hippies carrying signs made the utilities pack it in. Cold fact is,  Nukes are hard to build, and every time another one blows up, it gets harder.

UPDATE: Houston Chronicle:

Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did.

South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. and partner Santee Cooper abandoned work on two new nuclear reactors this week, not because of public protests, but because the only way to pay for them was to overcharge customers or bankrupt both companies.

The decision comes after the main contractor, Westinghouse, has completed a third of the work at the V.C. Sumner Nuclear Station. Of course, the project has already bankrupted Westinghouse due to missed deadlines and costs spiraling out of control. Westinghouse parent Toshiba Corp. had to pay $2.7 billion to get out of its contract.

The project was supposed to cost only $5.1 billion, but to actually finish the work would have cost $11.4 billion. By abandoning work, the utilities said they will save about $7 billion in charges they would have had to pass on to customers.

That leaves only one new nuclear project under construction in Georgia, where Westinghouse has also gone over budget and missed deadlines.  Georgia Power says it has taken over construction of the two new reactors at the Vogtle plant through Southern Nuclear.

Wall Street Journal:

The cost of building the only nuclear power plant under construction in the U.S. has ballooned to more than $25 billion, but chief owner Southern Co. SO -1.15% said it isn’t ready to throw in the towel on the project.

The company released the new cost estimate for Georgia’s Vogtle Electric Generating Plant on Wednesday, adding that it expects completion of the plant, which has already seen years of delays and rising costs, to be delayed by another 18 months until February 2021 at the earliest.

The price would be split between Southern, three regional power companies, which are partners in the project, and Toshiba Corp. TOSYY -0.49% , whose subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric Corp., went bankrupt earlier this year while building the plant.

The disclosure from Southern comes two days after  Scana  Corp. pulled the plug on a similar nuclear plant in South Carolina. It also had years of delays and cost increases that put final completion of that facility above $25 billion as well.

Southern Chairman and Chief Executive  Thomas A. Fanning said during a conference call with analysts that he wasn’t ready to give up on the Vogtle plant.

“When you abandon, you have nothing to show for the amount of money you have spent,” he said. “If you go forward, you have a nuclear plant that will serve us for decades to come.”

He then added: “But please understand there has been no decision made.”

Bloomberg:

With a multibillion-dollar nuclear project in South Carolina dead, the fate of America’s nuclear renaissance now rests on one utility: Southern Co.

Scana Corp. dropped plans for two reactors Monday, leaving the two that Southern is building at the Vogtle plant in Georgia as the only ones under construction in the U.S. And even they are under threat: The utility had to take over management of the project from its bankrupt contractor Westinghouse Electric Co., and the plant is still years behind schedule and billions over budget. Now it must decide whether to finish them.

Southern calling it quits could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the long-awaited U.S. nuclear renaissance that has failed to materialize in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident. In 2012, Southern and Scana became the first companies to gain approval to build U.S. reactors in more than 30 years — only to find themselves in troubling times for the industry.

On top of construction setbacks and ballooning costs, nuclear plants are reelingunder intense competition from cheap natural gas and renewables that have spurred states led by New York to go as far as offering subsidies for existing reactors to keep them open.

“I’ve thought all along that Southern would walk away,” Kit Konolige, a New York-based analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone on Monday. The abandonment of the South Carolina project increases the chances of that happening since “it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep going,” he said.

The escalating expenses have heightened concern that what was supposed to be a rebirth of the nuclear power industry in the U.S., driven by Westinghouse reactors, is becoming a costly failure.

In 2008, Southern’s plant was supposed to cost $14 billion. Scana’s plant was projected at $11.4 billion.

The plants have identical designs, using a new approach that is supposed to be simpler and easier to build. But numerous changes—some for safety enhancements, others because construction began while final plans were still being developed—drove up costs.

Mr. Fanning did not disclose any specific reasons for the most recent estimates, but he said that since Southern took over construction of the Georgia plant earlier this summer, productivity has improved.

“Our near term experience tells us that we can do a better job than Westinghouse should we go down that road,” he said.

Southern said it would make a recommendation to Georgia regulators later this month about whether it would proceed with the project. Construction at the Georgia facility is 44% complete, compared to 35% for the South Carolina plant.

Vogtle is the only nuclear power plant still under construction in the U.S., and the first to be started since the 1980s.

The new plants’ troubles come at a time when the idea of generating electricity from nuclear power has received a boost. Some environmentalists have supported nuclear plants as a way of providing power that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide. And President  Donald Trump said earlier this summer he wanted to “revive and expand our nuclear-energy sector.”

WTLX – Columbia, South Carolina:

Columbia, SC (WLTX) – A bipartisan group of South Carolina lawmakers says there need to be greater accountability from South Carolina’s energy industry and regulatory agencies after the abandonment of a nuclear reactor project, a failure that’s costing thousands of people their jobs.

The Republican and Democrats said Wednesday at a State House news conference that they’re forming an “energy caucus” to force changes in the wake of the decision made at V.C. Summer Nuclear station in Fairfield County. About two dozens of the workers from the plant who have lost their jobs were there, clad in safety vests, to hear what representatives had to say.

“You deserve better,” Rep. James Smith, a Democrat from Richland County, told those in attendance.

On Monday, SCE&G and Santee Cooper announced they were walking away from a multi-year, multi-billion dollar project to build two new reactors at VC Summer, even though the units were only partially built. The project was over budget and over schedule, and the companies said if they’d kept going, it would have cost billions more.

With the decision, about 5,600 employees learned they’d no longer have a job to go to.

“The level of accountability that the workers of South Carolina have been put through, which is when a project fails, they lose their job, that level of accountability is going to go up through the system,” said Rep. Kirkman Finlay, a Republican from Columbia.
Santee Cooper owned 45 percent of the project, while SCE&G owned 55 percent. Westinghouse, which had been contracted for the project, filed for bankruptcy, in part because of losses related to the failure.
“The public trust is gone,” said Rep. Micah Caskey, a Republican from Lexington County,. “I want to be crystal clear what I’m saying: people need to be fired. This is not okay.”

The workers in attendance cheered the comment

 NYTimes again:

In 2015, Westinghouse took over as lead contractor on the South Carolina project after buying out its partners, but analysts say the company did not have sufficient expertise in handling large construction projects.

In March, faced with mounting losses at its nuclear endeavors in South Carolina and Georgia, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy. Toshiba agreed to pay $2.2 billion in exchange for being released from the South Carolina project, but utility officials said that was unlikely to be sufficient to finish the reactors.

Under South Carolina law, the utilities were allowed to charge ratepayers for construction costs before the reactors were finished. The nuclear project now accounts for 18 percent of the electric bills of South Carolina Electric & Gas’s residential customers. Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility, has increased rates five times to pay for the reactors.

Some environmental groups are now urging state regulators to refund those charges, arguing that the companies misled their customers.

“It was evident from the start that cost overruns, schedule delays and problems with an untested construction method” would doom the project, said Tom Clements, a senior adviser at Friends of the Earth. State regulators have set a hearing on the issue for October.

Houston Chronicle again:

Georgia power officials are reviewing the timeline and estimating the cost for completing the two new reactors, which if finished would be the first in the U.S.  in 30 years. Costs, though, are not as important to Georgia Power because it sells power in a regulated market. Georgia Power started charging customers for the reactors as soon as construction began.

By comparison, Texas has a competitive market, where power plants only make money when they produce electricity. Customers here don’t finance new plants for mega-corporations the way they do in Georgia, and that saves Texans money.

Once Georgia Power completes its review of the Vogtle reactors, company leaders will likely have a hard time justifying the increased cost to regulators. Because even if the reactors were not over-budget already, the all-in cost of the power generated by that plant is far higher than alternative sources.

Natural gas and wind from Texas are far cheaper, and new natural gas pipelines and two proposed direct current transmission projects will easily deliver cheap power to South Carolina and Georgia well below the cost of the new reactors.

Competing with cheap natural gas and renewable energy, which is why all of them are begging for subsidies or a carbon tax that will reward the plants for not producing carbon dioxide.

President Donald Trump has promised to boost nuclear power, but he has yet to roll out a plan. So far he has talked about doing away with the Clean Power Plan and has rejected a carbon tax, both of which are vital for nuclear power’s future.

What the nuclear industry really needs is new technology. Scientists are working on smaller reactors that are less dangerous, but none of them is ready for commercial deployment.

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8 Responses to “Nuclear “Renaissance” Slips back to Dark Age”

  1. rsmurf Says:

    Cant the yam snap his fingers and MAKE A DEAL lol or are there too many of “them” working there to care about it!

  2. Tom Bates Says:

    China is building hundreds of nuclear plants in the next 30 years, as is India and other countries not in your PC orbit. The costs of the plant are driven by politics not the actual cost of materials and labor. Politics killed the plants referenced in this story as well as other around this country.

  3. vierotchka Says:

    Chernobyl, 30 years later…

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    The South Carolingian newscasters neglected to mention that replacing the nukes with efficiency and renewable energy would yield many times more jobs now and in the future, than the nukes. Often jobs comparisons are a little skewed because renewables are in an active building phase and others not so much but here we have building-and-after jobs on both sides. Efficiency, solar and wind come out way, way, way ahead in this way as in every other way.

    “Solar Creates More US Electricity Jobs Than Oil, Gas, Coal, Nuclear Combined”
    Tuesday, March 07, 2017
    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/39738-doe-report-solar-creates-more-us-electricity-jobs-than-oil-gas-coal-nuclear-combined

  5. redskylite Says:

    I remember in earlier days of this excellent column we had a couple of regular nuclear fanatics who tried to steer all comment to the nuclear power issue and rubbished wind and solar. Through discussion, I realized I was probably prejudiced by my revulsion of photographed images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims at the end of WWII and nuclear power had absolutely nothing to do with that.

    Personally I feel more comfortable with wind, solar , geothermal, marine, (and I’ve lived close to a nuclear power station in Somerset, U.K) but understand nuclear still has a place to fill and in some cases maybe a worthy choice. politics, location and finance dictates.

    Raise your glasses ladies and gents and here’s to the “Engineer Poet” who is still going strong on the Energy Collective posts daily.

    The Perils Of Falling In Love With Energy Technology.

    Renewable energy and fossil fuel advocates have one thing in common – an unhealthy tendency to fall in love with a particular energy technology. Will nuclear power solve the world’s problems? Are solar and wind the answer to everything? Can natural gas save the day? What about biomass or clean coal?

    Each of these technologies has a cadre of vocal advocates, but they are a bit myopic. The problem is that picking winners and losers based on such biases sells the country short. Technologies should be judged based on their ability to power the economy in a clean, safe, reliable, and affordable manner. Choices that ignore one of these core goals fail that basic duty.

    http://www.theenergycollective.com/energy-innovation-llc/2409911/perils-falling-love-energy-technology

  6. redskylite Says:

    Well the weeds and vegetation are thriving in the area vacated by industry and humans, who would have foreseen an Earthquake/Tsunami around the ring of fire? (risk assessors would have I imagine).

    One very positive thing is Japan has rediscovered Geothermal Energy and being positioned on the Ring of Fire, they are not short of resource to exploit. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, seems a wise saying when it comes to energy generation.

    “Japan’s first new geothermal power plant in 15 years will open next month, heralding the start of a new chapter for the nation’s nuclear-hit energy industry.

    The new geothermal plant is located in a region famed for its natural hot springs and volcanic activity in Kumamoto prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu.

    The project has been masterminded by the Chuo Electric Power Co, which has set up a dedicated company devoted to geothermal activities and plans to open five further plants over the next five years.

    The plant – the first to open in Japan since 1999 – will mark the start of a flurry of geothermal projects launching across the country, with a string of other companies following suit from northernmost Hokkaido to southern Kyushu. ”

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/oilandgas/10701440/Japans-first-new-geothermal-power-plant-in-15-years-to-open-next-month.html


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