Fifth anniversary of Vogtle loan guarantee brings scrutiny of new builds

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A former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and a senior fellow said cost overruns at U.S. nuclear builds are putting a damper on the industry, but there is still hope for other low-carbon energy generating sources such as renewables.

The White House announced on February 10, 2010 that $8.3 billion in loan guarantees would help fund the two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle in Georgia. The Obama Administration said the Vogtle loan guarantees would be a “major step toward restarting the domestic nuclear industry,” a release from The Hastings Group said. There are also two AP1000 reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina and one being built at Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee.

“Vogtle, V.C. Summer, Watts Bar and recently cancelled nuclear projects are far from the scenario of revived nuclear construction that the White House anticipated in approving that first conditional loan guarantee five years ago,” said former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford, currently adjunct professor on Nuclear Power and Public Policy, Vermont Law School.

Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) told the Associated Press in January that it expected an 18-month delay for Plant Vogtle and the delay could potentially cost $720 million in new charges. The units were originally planned to be operational by 2016 and 2017. Now, the start dates are mid-2019 and mid-2020.

“Vogtle had everything going for it and it was hailed as the trigger that would set off the nuclear renaissance,” Dr. Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis, Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, said during the press conference.  He said construction delays, increasing costs and “repeated construction screw ups” will not help the industry to advance.

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