Skip to main content

The only two US reactor projects now technically under construction are on the brink of death for financial reasons.  

If they go under, there will almost certainly be no new reactors built here.  

The much mythologized “nuclear renaissance” will be officially buried, and the US can take a definitive leap toward a green-powered future that will actually work and that won’t threaten the continent with radioactive contamination.

Georgia’s double-reactor Vogtle project has been sold on the basis of federal loan guarantees.  Last year President Obama promised the Southern Company, parent to Georgia Power, $8.33 billion in financing from an $18.5 billion fund that had been established at the Department of Energy by George W. Bush.  

Until last week most industry observers had assumed the guarantees were a done deal.  But the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade group, has publicly complained that the Office of Management and Budget may be requiring terms that are unacceptable to the builders. ( http://nukefree.org/... ).

Southern and its supporters remain ostensibly optimistic that the deal will be done.  But the climate for loan guarantees has changed since this one was promised.  The $535 million collapse of Solyndra prompted a rash of angry Congressional hearings and cast a long shadow over the whole range of loan guarantees for energy projects.  Though the Vogtle deal comes from a separate fund, skepticism over stalled negotiations is rising.  

So is resistance among Georgia ratepayers.  To fund the new Vogtle reactors, Southern is forcing “construction work in progress” rate hikes that require consumers to pay for the new nukes as they’re being built.  Southern is free of liability, even if the reactors are not completed.  Thus it behooves to build them essentially forever, collecting payment whether they open or not.

All that would collapse should the loan guarantee package fail.  

A similar fate may be awaiting the Summer Project.  South Carolina Electric & Gas has pledged to build the two new reactors there without federal subsidies or guarantees.  But it does require ratepayer funding up front.  That includes an apparent need for substantial financial participation from Duke Power and/or Progress Energy customers in North Carolina who have been targeted to receive some of the electricity projected to come from Summer.

But resistance in the Tar Heel State is fierce.  NCWarn and other consumer/anti-nuclear organizations are geared up to fight the necessary rate hikes tooth and nail.  ( http://nukefree.org/... ).  Should they win---and in a troubled economy there is much going for them---nuclear opponents could well take Summer down before it gets seriously off the ground.

Progress already has its hands full with a double-reactor project proposed for Levy County, Florida.  Massive rate hikes granted for CWIP by the Florida legislature have ignited tremendous public anger.  ( http://nukefree.org/... ) and ( http://www.tampabay.com/... ) .  Unlike Vogtle and Summer, Levy County has yet to get NRC approval.  

Progress is also over its had at Crystal River.  Upwards of $2 billion has been poured into botched repairs at this north Florida reactor.  Odds are strong it will never reopen.  

The same may be true at California’s San Onofre, now shut due to problems with its steam generator tubing, a generic flaw that could affect up to about half the currently licensed 104 US reactors.  Nukes at Vermont Yankee, New York’s Indian Point and Pilgrim, in Massachusetts, among others, are also under fierce attack.

These elderly reactors have been routinely issued extended operating licenses by the NRC.  

But as their physical deterioration accelerates, official licenses may now be beside the point for these old reactors....and for new nukes as well.  The major financial trades such as Bloomberg’s, Fortune et. al., now regularly concede that increased efficiency and renewable projects are cheaper, faster to build and more profitable than new reactors.  The Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency, could conceivably pick up the corpse and try to build new reactors, as it did at the dawn of the nuclear age, when no private utilities would touch the untested but clearly dubious promise of the  “Peaceful Atom.”

In the decades since, the promise of electricity “too cheap to meter” has proven to be a tragic myth.  

And all these years later, the financial pitfalls of what may be the last two proposed reactor projects may write the final epitaph for an industry whose fiscal failures are in the multi-billions.

At the end of the road, it will still take citizen activism to finally bury this industry.  But we may be very close to making it happen.  

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Click here for the mobile view of the site