Nuclear Energy’s Immediate Fate In the U.S. Could Be Up To State Regulators
The prospects for nuclear energy around the globe stand in stark contrast to its possible fate here in the United States, where the four reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina are in question.
Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse is building two advanced reactors for Southern Co.’s Georgia Power and two for Scana Corp. But that subsidiary has filed for bankruptcy, leaving the fate of those four reactors up in the air. Right now, Southern Co. and its partners need regulatory approval to receive additional ratepayer funding to complete the Vogtle nuclear project, which will end up costing more money and more time — all on top of the original $14 billion price tag and the initial 2016 deadline.
According to a Reuter’s story, Toshiba agreed last week to pay $3.68 billion over three years. A similar and totally separate deal could be in the works with Scana. If those plans go through, the units would eventually get built but at what cost, financially and otherwise? If not, the deals could get scrapped and perhaps knock nuclear energy to its knees in this country.
A renegotiated agreement occurred in December 2016 and included a $3.68 billion parental guarantee from Toshiba that would be triggered by a Westinghouse bankruptcy. “In my opinion, the $3.68 billion financial backstop is critical for us to complete this project,” says Tim Echols, vice chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission, in an interview.
A May 12th agreement between Georgia Power, the co-owners of Vogtle and Toshiba would move responsibility for construction to Southern Nuclear with Westinghouse continuing to provide a servicing agreement, Echols continues. That would ensure that the engineering and design talent remains at the plant but gives the Southern Co. sole responsibility for construction.
Echols anticipates Georgia Power will be returning to the commission to seek additional funding.
In response to Scana’s two incomplete nuclear units, Chief Executive Kevin Marsh told analysts during a conference call Wednesday, ”It’s pretty clear from the filing that they’re looking for us take over the project,” Reuters reported. ”It’s way too premature to say that’s the option we’re going to end up with.”
The four reactors, about 1,100 megawatts each, have been considered bellwether nuclear energy projects. Proponents of the fuel source have emphasized that it is carbon free and that once plants are up-and-running, they are cost-efficient to operate. The capacity factors — the amount of time spent in service — is in the 90 percentile bracket and more than any other type of generation.
Opponents, conversely, have argued that such plants are non-economical and would not even be considered unless they received taxpayer and ratepayer backing. Scana’s subsidiary, South Carolina Electric & Gas, has had to raise electricity prices nearly 20% since 2009 to fund the nuclear reactors under construction, Reuters said. Critics also note that the issue of where to store the radioactive spent fuel remains unresolved.