Health, Environmental Harms Ignored at Plant Vogtle VCM 18 Hearings (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — At the Eighteenth Semi-Annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) proceedings, Georgia Power’s hand is out again to request approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) for 448 million dollars invested in the construction of two new nuclear power reactors, Unit 3 and Unit 4, between July 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017.
Advocates and commissioners alike focused on financial issues involving Vogtle, once again ignoring the health and environmental issues.
“I have a problem with Georgia Power profiting off of failure. Since they started, their profit margin has doubled, so the longer they go, and the more money they spend, the more money they make,” Debbie Dooley, Co-Founder of Atlanta Tea Party, testified.
“Georgia Power and Southern Company has not managed the plant in a fiscally responsible way. There were problems that they knew about a year before Westinghouse went bankrupt,” Dooley said.
Georgia ratepayers have shelled out over two billion dollars on the Nuclear Construction Cost Recovery fees on their utility bills, while Georgia Power’s net profits have soared to a giddy seventeen percent margin this year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) plans to give the project an additional loan of 1.67 billion dollars by July 01, 2018. They received an 8.3 billion dollars in guaranteed loans from the federal government at the start of this boondoggle.
Health and Environmental Consequences of Nuclear Power
It has been more than 32 years since the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, which sent radiation around the world that is expected to increase incidents of cancer in the population for thousands of years.
Soviet scientist Alexey Yablolov concluded that a million premature deaths have already resulted from Chernobyl.
Fukushima’s three nuclear meltdowns are still leaking radiation into the Pacific Ocean and contaminating the food chain, water, soil, animals, plants, and people, causing sickness and early deaths for generations.
However, as previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News in 2008, nuclear power doesn’t require a major accident or meltdown to cause damage to the health of the people or the environment.
In Burke County, Georgia, environmental samples contained tritium, cesium-137, strontium-90, plutonium, iodine 129, cobalt-60, according to a recent report by Georgia WAND on “Community Impacts at the Crossroads of Nuclear and Climate Injustices in the U.S. South.”
Of each of these radioactive isotopes, tritium is the element contributing the highest levels of contamination, showing up in air, rain, groundwater, river water, drinking water, fish, milk, crops, leafy vegetation, and deer.
All nuclear power plants routinely release doses of tritium, which can cause birth defects and cancer.
Joseph Mangano, an epidemiologist and statistician, conducted a report based on publicly available data on annual deaths between 1979 and 2003 obtained from the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Cancer Institute.
This report states that the cancer death rate for children and adolescents in the eleven counties closest to Vogtle and Savannah River Site rose 58.5 percent, compared to a 14.1 percent decline nationally.
Cancer rates rose sharply for all cancers in Burke County while U.S. rates have declined.
CNN television news also aired a report from Shell Bluff in Burke County, discussing how cancer rates in that area are 51 percent higher than the national average.
STATUS OF THE VOGTLE REACTORS
The new companies on the Project are Bechtel and Southern Nuclear.
Bechtel is the primary construction contractor and Southern Nuclear is in a leadership role with full accountability for the project.
“Since Southern Nuclear took over we have met our construction deadline,” Stephen Kuczynski, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Nuclear Operating Company, testified at the 18th VCM hearing.
They are currently ahead of the revised schedule of 2021 and 2022, he said.
“We have full control, the buck stops here,” Jeremiah Haswell, Project Oversight Director for Georgia Power, testified.
The total Project is 67.1 percent complete with the Construction only 50.8 percent complete after five years. Unit 3 construction started in March 2013 and is 44 percent complete, while Unit 4 construction started in November 2013 and is 33 percent complete.
During this reporting period approximately 8.7 million work hours were performed safely with no lost-time injuries.
Currently, Bechtel manages over three thousand craft people on site and report they need at least one thousand more craft workers in order to finish the job on time. They are holding job fairs to recruit skilled workers.
Bechtel has a time and material contract with no cap on cost or schedule, and this puts them at risk of losing money if they don’t meet the cost and schedule dates of 2021 and 2022.
This is an incentive for Bechtel to finish on time, but ratepayers may be stuck paying for Georgia Power’s cost overruns if they finish late.
In the 17th VCM, the Commission rejected the Staff’s recommendation of a cap on recoverable expenditures at nine billion dollars. PSC Staff had warned that costs above that amount would be uneconomic for ratepayers.
“We believe they’ve already passed the uneconomic threshold, and support evidence presented by Southern Environmental Law Center witness Matt Cox in favor of a full re-certification proceeding, which would show ratepayers would be better off stopping the project and meeting capacity needs through energy efficiency and renewables,” Liz Coyle, Executive Director of Georgia Watch, told APN.
If the schedule target is missed, it could lead to a higher cost for the total project, one witness said.
“If the cost ends up being higher and outside the contingency, would Georgia Power seek to recover those costs from ratepayer?” Coyle asked.
“Yes,” Kuczynski answered: thus, another blank check for Georgia Power that consumers may pay with higher utility rates.
PUBLIC EXPRESSES OUTRAGE
“Despite the sagging sales, Georgia Power posted a whopping seventeen percent profit in 2017. They are taking our money for a bungled unneeded power plant and giving it to their shareholders and [giving] high salaries to the CEO’s,” Stephanie Coffin, a retired teacher, said.
Thomas Fanning, Southern Company CEO, received a whopping compensation package in 2016 of 15.8 million dollars plus a 2.7 million dollar bonus.
“Georgia Power is overbuilt and is only using about 65 percent of its capacity, and still we are told we need two new nuclear plants, which will only add six percent energy,” Betsy Rivard of Nuclear Watch South (NWS) said.
“Maybe Vogtle really is a smart scheme to heist a lot of money by packing the rate base with millions in overruns,” Robert Searfoss of Aging Raging Ratepayers said.
“The financial aspects of Vogtle are outrageous. But the real issue is that nuclear power is a monster. We don’t know what to do with the waste. The risk of radiological disaster is ever present. There is no safe level of radiation, ” Glenn Carroll of NWS said in a press release.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)
CORRECTION AND UPDATE 1: This article has been updated to reflect that Coyle referred to the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) is her comments, not the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE).