This blog was written by Sara Barczak, former Regional Advocacy Director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Guest Blog | March 31, 2017
Energy Policy, Nuclear
Just kidding! April Fool’s!
I know, I know…we did this last year too, but it’s not our fault that Southern Company and SCANA offered up April Fool’s 2016 as the completion date for the first new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in South Carolina and also picked April Fool’s 2017 for the next two new reactors at each site. You heard that right: roughly 4400 megawatts (MW) of new nuclear generation were supposed to be flowing through transmission lines by now.
Instead, both projects are fully off-track and nearly derailed this week as the designer and builder of the AP1000 reactors under construction at both sites, Toshiba’s Westinghouse,
filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of the massive losses from these nuclear boondoggles. And unfortunately, I cannot say “April Fool’s!” — the bankruptcy filing happened. (You just cannot make this stuff up.)
The ramifications of this development throw a lot of big unknowns as to the future of these budget-and-milestone-busting nuclear power expansion projects. Each project is less than 40 percent complete despite being under construction since 2009. Will the projects be finished? If so, who is going to build them and at what cost and when will they be completed? What happens if the projects are abandoned? Who pays? What happens to the
$8.3 billion taxpayer-financed federal loan guarantees for the Vogtle project? How is all this decided? And the questions go on and on and there are no simple and certainly no reassuring answers.
For now, I’m going to refrain from throwing out all kinds of cost estimates, possible completion dates and reminders of how many times we and others,
going back more than a decade, forewarned utilities and their regulators about the high risks associated with new nuclear generation (read the statements provided). It’s too early to tell what will happen, including how Westinghouse will emerge. But their parent company, Japanese giant Toshiba, made it clear that Westinghouse is out of the nuclear construction business beyond these two projects. And how committed, or even how able, they are to completing the Georgia and South Carolina projects is now likely going to be determined by a bankruptcy court. However, two things do appear clear: a very costly door has closed on the so-called “nuclear renaissance” and none of this is a funny “April Fool’s” joke.
In closing, it’s worth repeating this line from our April Fool’s blog from 2016: consumers need to stand up, speak out and stop being fooled before it’s too late—again.