“Milestone” reactor is likely US’s last

Vogtle 3_NRC

The AP 1000 Vogtle Unit 3 reactor in Georgia, 16 years in the making, became officially operational this week after several technical setbacks earlier this year had caused it to start up and power down again. The moment of commercial operation has been heralded in headlines and by the nuclear industry as a “milestone” but the Financial Times predicts that while Vogtle 3 may be the “first new US nuclear reactor in three decades” it also “may be its last”.

The reactor came in seven years later than originally predicted and vastly over-budget. A second reactor, Vogtle 4, is expected to start commercial operation in 2024, but the total price tag for the two reactors is currently predicted to be $35 billion and could well climb higher. But, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “Georgia Power ratepayers have already been paying for the two units in their monthly bills for years.” And, added the article, “Now that Unit 3 is complete, they’ll begin paying even more soon. Georgia Power estimates the average customer will see their monthly bills jump by $3.78. Witnesses for the PSC’s staff, however, estimate the monthly increase will be closer to $5.40.”

While another $2.1 billion of capital costs will now be folded into the rate base as Vogtle 3 enters service, the burden for Georgians is about to get worse, agreed Patty Durand of Cool Planet Solutions in an email to Beyond Nuclear. When/if Vogtle 4 enters commercial operations, the capital costs “will be five times that amount, at least,” Durand wrote. “In its 2017 decision to continue Plant Vogtle after Westinghouse’s bankruptcy, the Ga PSC approved $7.2 billion for both units, so subtracting $2.1 billion for Unit 3 from $7.2 billion is $5.1 billion for Unit 4. But that’s not all. The project is $10 billion over budget, so adding the cost overruns to the previously approved capital costs totals about $15 billion.”

Nevertheless, the startup of Vogtle 3 is being celebrated by a failing nuclear industry desperate to show it could finish something after its so-called Nuclear Renaissance, launched in 2007, failed to materialize, with 34 reactors originally in the pipeline.

(Headline photo US NRC)

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