Vogtle Construction Hearing #14 – Still Converting Dollars to Radiation
(APN) ATLANTA — Once again, it’s that special time of the year when the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) pretends to care about the public. Last week, on Tuesday, June 7, 2016 the PSC held its fourteenth, semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) review hearing, regarding the status of the two new nuclear reactors at Vogtle.
Currently, the project is three years behind schedule and billions over budget and rising.
The two nuclear reactors were originally scheduled for completion by 2016 and 2017, but the latest projection is 2019 and 2020.
The PSC will review the 160 million dollars in construction costs spent between July and December 2015. The Commission has not authorized these expenses yet; although it has never, at least in recent years, seen a nuclear cost it couldn’t approve.
But Southern Company’s Georgia Power–with their political clout, and army of lobbyists and lawyers–usually gets what it wants: to socialize the cost and risk to Georgia taxpayers and ratepayers, while privatizing the profits to Company shareholders.
“Vogtle is a colossal boondoggle,” Arnold Gundersen, Chief Nuclear Engineer with Fairewinds Energy Education, told Atlanta Progressive News in a phone interview.
Gundersen explained that Georgia Power is using a brand new design for the reactors, raising questions about the company’s claims that this design is expected to work flawlessly for sixty years.
“The reactor cooling pumps and the steam generator have never been tried before,” Gundersen said.
“To get the cost of Vogtle down, they are amortizing it over sixty years; and no nuclear plant has ever gone more than 48 years. Twenty percent of the nuclear plants have broken before they got to forty years,” Gundersen noted.
Georgia Power has spent a staggering 3.5 billion dollars so far, and the total construction is only 31.7 percent finished.
Other aspects of the project are further along: engineering is 94 percent complete, and procurement is 80 percent complete. But the nuclear island is only 24 percent complete.
It is difficult to know the total cost of the project, and some critics believe the lack of transparency is deliberate, so as to confuse the public to the point of not paying attention.
However, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) made a stab at it, with an estimate of 21 billion dollars as the current total cost estimate for the entire Vogtle project.
Last year, in 2015, Robert Baker, legal adviser for SACE, estimated that Georgia Power’s share of the total revenue at 30 billion, with a total lifetime cost of the Vogtle project estimated revenue of 65 billion.
[Readers can dig through that pile of worms in APN’s reporting link below.]
Commissioner Lauren “Bubba” McDonald (District 4), impatient with Baker’s persistent questioning of Georgia Power, blurted out: “You represent SACE (Clean Energy), and nuclear energy is about as clean as it get, so help us build it. ”
“I would not say nuclear is clean. It will kill you faster than any other source of power. It is carbon free, I will agree with you on that. I will not agree it is a clean source of power… it will kill you,” Baker quickly responded to the Commissioner.
Later Baker told APN, “The company has made the statement a few times that nuclear is clean energy, and it’s factually not true. It uses radioactive fuel, which can kill a person. It’s very deadly, and that’s why they build huge concrete and steel domes around the nuclear plant to contain the radioactivity.”
Nuclear is not only not clean; it’s not safe. The nuclear waste stays radioactive for millenia, and the U.S. already has tons of high-level radioactive waste sitting in pools or dry casks at nuclear power plants not designed for long term storage.
“The nuclear industry would have you believe that mankind is so smart, they can store nuclear waste for one quarter of a million years, but so dumb that we can’t store solar electricity overnight,” Gundersen told APN.
Many still remember the controversy over Vogtle 1 and 2, when those units went an astronomical 1,000 percent over budget.
In the early 1970’s, Georgia Power proposed building a four unit nuclear plant to cost about 600 million dollars. By the late 1980’s, when Vogtle 1 and 2 went online, the cost was almost nine billion dollars.
Liz Coyle with Georgia Watch and Becky Rafter with Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions also raised concerns, in testimony to the PSC.
The delays cost about two million dollars per day.
Georgia Power has a long history of nuclear projects going way over budget with incompetence and mismanagement. That is why advocates say that more risk should be placed on the Company, not the taxpayers and ratepayers.
As previously reported by APN, the Georgia Legislature decided in 2009 that the construction costs should be borne by Georgia Power ratepayers.
The Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery tariff on Georgia Power energy bills forces ratepayers to pay upfront for energy they do not receive and some may never receive. Customers have already paid over one billion on this tariff.