Tag Archives: Southern Company

Vogtle: at $65 billion and counting, it’s a case study of nuclear power’s staggeringly awful economics

Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015. After 41 months of construction, the project is 39 months behind schedule. Photo by High Flyer, special to Savannah River Site Watch.

Vogtle Units 3 (left) and 4, July 30, 2015. After 41 months of construction, the project is 39 months behind schedule. Photo by High Flyer, special to Savannah River Site Watch.

Georgia is one state that you would think would be wary of nuclear power economics. The first two reactors at Georgia Power’s Vogtle site, which came online in the late 1980s, were a record 800% over budget.

That is a number that is almost impossible to grasp. Nothing goes 800% over budget–in the real world, projects get cancelled well before reaching that point. Continue reading


Some real Turkey Week turkeys

It's a race to the bottom: which reactor will come online first? Vogtle (pictured here in March 2014) or Flamanville (pictured below). Or, alternatively, which project will be abandoned first?

It’s a race to the bottom: which reactor will come online first? Vogtle (pictured here in March 2014) or Flamanville (pictured below). Or, alternatively, which project will be abandoned first?

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the U.S., what better time to take a look at some of the real turkeys in the nuclear power business?

We don’t have to go back far, however. All of these turkeys took place just this week! Continue reading

What does Southern Co.’s CEO know that we don’t?

Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning (left) selling former DOE Secretary Chu on the wonders of Vogtle, 2012.

Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning (left) selling former DOE Secretary Chu on the wonders of Vogtle, 2012.

The question of the day is what does Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning know that the rest of the world doesn’t?

The question arises because on September 5th, Fanning sold nearly all his stock in Southern Company, more than a million shares, putting nearly $47 million into his bank account. He kept only 35,000 shares.

That’s a tidy sum, and would seem to be incentive enough to sell–unless one thought the stock would rise higher. It’s not like Fanning was selling off a few shares because he needed some cash to renew a country club membership or something. No, Fanning sold more than 90% of his stake in the company he runs. Not many people have pressing bills of $47 million. Continue reading


New U.S. reactors: overbudget, behind schedule, shirking safety regs

The Summer nuclear project, May 2014. Still a long ways--and a lot more rate increases--to go.

The Summer nuclear project, May 2014. Still a long ways–and a lot more rate increases–to go.

The nuclear “renaissance” began fizzling about three minutes after it was declared, once utility financial people took over from the nuclear boosters and did a real examination of reactor construction cost estimates, declining electrical demand, falling prices for natural gas, and rapid growth of renewables.

But five new reactors, aided by unique circumstances, do remain under construction in the U.S.: two at Southern Company’s Georgia Power Vogtle site in Georgia, two at SCANA’s Summer site in South Carolina, and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar-2 reactor in Tennessee. Both Vogtle and Summer are aided by their control of their state’s Public Service Commission, which kindly allows the utilities to use ratepayers as their banks; both utilities are collecting money from ratepayers as construction goes on, enabling them to borrow less and repay what they do borrow faster. And the Vogtle project also has received $6.5 Billion in low-interest taxpayer loans from the Federal Financing Bank, with another $1.8 Billion to some of its partners still expected. TVA is in a class of its own–a federal government agency with its own budget and authority and Congressional backers who will readily support just about anything it wants to do–as long as it’s not spending too much money on renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.  Continue reading


Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, April 14, 2014

Japan's Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Photo by Greenpeace

Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Photo by Greenpeace

Nuclear Power

Babcock & Wilcox, best known for designing the Three Mile Island reactors, cuts back on its Small Modular Reactor program because it can’t find investors. Because, really, who would want one?

NRC respect for judicial process in action: the agency approved a new uranium mine in South Dakota even before a legal hearing challenging the mine was held. That may be a new low for the agency; in this editorial the Rapid City Journal notes: “By issuing the license before testimony is heard, the NRC invites cynicism in the uranium licensing process. Mining opponents can’t be faulted for believing the process has been corrupted, and that the NRC is controlled by the uranium industry that it’s supposed to regulate.”

Is Rick Perry cheerleading for a high-level radwaste dump in Texas? Apparently so. An excellent examination of the Governor’s actions in support of a new dump–and some bigtime Perry contributors–from The Texas Observer. If he’d do that to Texas, imagine what he could do to the entire country if ever elected president….

Continue reading


Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, January 30, 2014

The National Journal claims, without much in the way of evidence, that former NRC Chair Greg Jaczko is “persona non grata” on Capitol Hill and to the nuclear industry. On one level, that’s what happens when one speaks the truth. It might have been better if Jaczko had been even more aggressive when he was the Chair, although that would probably have reduced his effectiveness at the agency–and he did do a lot to make the NRC more safety-conscious, especially for a brief period of time following the Fukushima disaster. But he was up against four other Commissioners who see their mission as less to protect public health and safety than to protect the fading remnants of the nuclear power industry.

But in our view, becoming “persona non grata” to the nuclear industry and its Congressional allies is a badge of honor and we should all be thankful for Jaczko’s public statements since leaving office–especially those pointing out that all U.S. reactors suffer from fundamental design deficiencies and should be shut down.

We do have a real beef here with National Journal. They headlined the article Whatever Happened to Gregory Jaczko? and are actually the one coining the phrase that Jaczko is “persona non grata.” After all, no one is quoted to that effect and the only anti-Jaczko quote they could muster up came from the zealously pro-nuclear blogger Rod Adams–one of a dwindling few who think a nuclear “renaissance” would be a good idea. It seems to us that speaking the truth may be a little too much for the National Journal; in the context of this article they are not actually reporting on anything real, but rather they seem to be hoping to make that assessment a foregone conclusion. Jaczko’s views may not be mainstream to much of the Journal’s inside-the-Beltway audience; out in the real world they make a lot of sense.

Southern Co. submits new papers to DOE for $8+ Billion taxpayer loan for construction of new Vogtle reactors in Georgia. At the same time, Southern CEO Tom Fanning is quoted as saying progress on Vogtle construction “is terrific.” This is a rather startling assessment for a project that began two years ago and is already a year behind schedule and somewhere around $1 Billion over-budget. What isn’t clear is whether the papers Southern submitted to DOE are an acceptance of loan terms or perhaps a new proposal for those terms. Nor is it clear that the White House’s Office of Management and Budget has signed off on loan terms for the project; OMB’s apparent assessment that the project is quite risky has been the main stumbling block to completing the loan, which was first announced by President Obama nearly four years ago.

The new deadline for the loan deal is tomorrow, Friday, January 31; although since the deadline already has been extended several times, presumably it could be extended once again. More than 4,000 people have sent objections to the loan to DOE, President Obama and their Congressmembers in the past 24 hours. Keep it up! It’s not too late to stop this unnecessary, risky and plain nonsensical use of taxpayer dollars. Act here.

Note: we received one comment yesterday that the action link against the Vogtle loan didn’t work. We tested it and it worked for us. If you have any problems using this link or the action page, please let us know by sending us a brief note describing the problem to nirsnet@nirs.org.

Conservatives in UK take on their government’s fascination with “fast” reactors, specifically the PRISM reactor designed, but never built anywhere, by General Electric. This is the same type of design being promoted by a handful of climate scientists led by Dr. James Hansen. This piece, published on a Conservative website and headlined Nuclear power: The gift that keeps on taking, is an absolutely devastating indictment of the whole “fast” reactor concept. A must-read.

1400 people sue GE, Toshiba & Hitachi over reactor design issues that led to the Fukushima disaster. Yes, there wouldn’t have been a disaster without the initiating massive earthquake and tsunami, but the long-identified design flaws in Fukushima’s GE Mark I reactors are what turned a natural disaster into a nuclear catastrophe. Here’s hoping the Japanese courts accept this lawsuit for a full review and place some of the blame where it belongs: on the reactor manufacturers themselves.

Speaking of Fukushima and reactor safety issues, at this morning’s Senate Environment Committee hearing on the NRC’s response to the lessons of Fukushima, Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) blasted the NRC for “unacceptable delay” in implementing post-Fukushima safety modifications. She also complained that the agency still has not turned over to the Committee key documents related to the safety issues that shut down southern California’s San Onofre reactors last year.

Photo from Greenpeace

Photo from Greenpeace

A beautiful Greenpeace action turns a major square in Budapest into an anti-nuclear symbol in protest against a Hungarian/Russian agreement to build two new reactors at Hungary’s Paks nuclear site.

DeSmogBlog is always worth a read. Today it analyzes the two big reasons why solar power is under siege from far-right groups like ALEC and traditional utilities.

Finally, this article points out that declining electrical demand dogs some big and very traditional private sector utilities, in this case Southern Company and American Electric Power. The utilities better get used to it: electricity demand may never again reach 2007 levels as energy efficiency programs in states across the country are proving effective policies at accomplishing exactly the goal of achieving declining electrical demand. That means less need for new power plants, especially the large nuclear and coal plants they utilities still favor.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/30/nuclear-newsreel-january-30-2014/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Missed this last week, sorry I did. Excellent op-ed from veteran energy journalist Ken Maize: Let the Vogtle DOE Loan Vanish. Completely dismantles, from a free-market perspective, any argument that the proposed $8.3 Billion taxpayer loan for construction of the two Vogtle reactors in Georgia makes any sense at all. Also correctly notes that this would be a taxpayer loan, not just a loan guarantee. The only thing he gets wrong is that he says the project is on schedule. Actually, it’s about a year behind at this point.

The beginning of the piece is dead-on:

“Sorry, I confess I just don’t get it. Why is the Department of Energy still negotiating with the Southern Company for a below-market loan to finish construction of two more units at Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear plant?

“The utility says it will go it alone if the Obama administration doesn’t come through with a loan of $8.3 billion (for what is now a $15.5 billion project). Indeed, construction is going forward on the project, and it appears to be on schedule. So why should Uncle Sam subsidize the project?

“Let ’em go. If the Southern Co, doesn’t need the money, that’s great. Go for it, Southern.

The only answer I’ve seen so far is that without the federal largess, local customers will pay more for electricity. So Southern Co., Municipal Energy Agency of Georgia, Oglethorpe Power Corp., and the city of Dalton want federal taxpayers to subsidize Georgia electric customers. Huh? Again, I don’t get it.”

Read the whole thing. Then send it to your Congressmember.
Politico points out that President Obama wants it both ways: in his State of the Union speech last night Obama called both for action on climate change (and correctly and directly challenged climate change deniers) and an “all of the above” strategy on energy, which includes natural gas and oil development–which of course adds to climate change. Well, at least he didn’t include nuclear power in his talk, and it’s pretty clear that except for some money for Small Modular Reactor development, promoting nuclear power has been put on the back burner at the White House for the past couple of years. As we reported yesterday, the CEO of Areva is very sad that the Obama administration has not been including nuclear in its recent energy policy pronouncements. One key indicator of the White House’s position on nuclear will be its decision on the Vogtle loan. The deadline for completion of the loan has been extended several times and is currently this Friday, January 31. The key question is whether DOE will be able to overcome the White House’s Office of Management and Budget’s objections to the terms of the loan, which it apparently believes is just too risky.

Even if you’ve done it before, tell Energy Secretary Moniz and President Obama once again to stop the $8.3 billion taxpayer loan for Vogtle reactor construction. You can make your voice heard here.

In Filling in the Gaps on Fukushima Radiation and Its Effects on Fish, well-known Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki writes in support of a new project from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to crowdsource funding to measure the effects of Fukushima radiation on the Pacific Ocean and marine life. That’s become necessary since no government has been willing to do the necessary monitoring. We support that project too.

Dominion Power gets nuclear gift from Virginia Senate committee. Full Senate should stop this nonsense now.

French nuclear regulator wants power to impose fines over safety issues. Sheesh! After 50 years, they’re just now figuring out utilities should be fined for safety violations?

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe visited India over the weekend, he’s been pushing for an India-Japan nuclear agreement as part of his effort to revive Japan’s nuclear power export business in the wake of Fukushima. But Indians were not all enamored of that concept; everywhere he went he was met by anti-nuclear protestors.

The world’s largest wind turbine began operation in Denmark on Tuesday. It’s designed primarily to be used in large offshore wind farms. But for us the really startling, and dismaying, sentence in this article is this: …it “can generate 8 megawatts of power — enough to supply electricity for 7,500 average European households or about 3,000 American households.” This is a not-so-subtle reminder that the U.S. has a long way to go on energy efficiency–the cheapest, cleanest and fastest means of reducing carbon emissions. The U.S. remains less than 1/2 as energy efficient as the European Union, which itself is 1/2 as efficient as Japan (although the EU has been catching up in recent years).

A very good piece explaining the difference between “intermittent” power and “variable” power (discussed yesterday in Nuclear Newsreel). It is correct (and important, especially when managing the electrical grid) to classify nuclear and fossil fuel as “intermittent” power, solar and wind represent “variable” power. Both are more relevant terms in the 21st century than the obsolete (but still frequently used, especially by the nuclear industry) term of “baseload” power.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/29/nuclear-newsreel-january-29-2014/

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