17 for ’17: The Future Of Nuclear Power In Georgia
There was going to be a nuclear renaissance in the United States, or at least, supporters of nuclear power about a decade ago hoped there would be.
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Nuclear boosters say it’s important for U.S. leadership for nuclear to be built here, and for national security. It’s reliable. And supporters point out that once nuclear reactors are up and running, they don’t produce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
It’s also very expensive to build.
After big shifts in the energy industry – fracking made natural gas much cheaper — and a major bankruptcy, there’s only one nuclear power construction project in the nation. It’s at Plant Vogtle, near Augusta.
And the fate of the Vogtle expansion was up in the air for much of 2017.
In March, Westinghouse, the lead contractor building the two new nuclear reactors at Vogtle, went bankrupt. Soon after, utilities in South Carolina decided to stop work on their nuclear expansion at Summer Nuclear Generating Station, which was also being built by Westinghouse.
Summer was the only other active project in the U.S., and with the expansion there canceled, the future of the U.S. nuclear industry rested on Vogtle.
Georgia Power, which owns a little more than 45 percent of Vogtle, said following the Westinghouse bankruptcy, it would review costs and schedules and propose whether to continue construction or not. It called it the “go or no-go” decision.
The result of the analysis? The company said there would be a five-year delay – the new units were supposed to be up and running by now and are now expected to be complete in 2022 – and billions of dollars of added costs. Georgia Power hasn’t released a total final price tag, which would include the costs to the co-owners, plus financing, but it appears to have nearly doubled, to more than $22 billion.
Still, Georgia Power said it made more sense to continue than to cancel.