Ernest J. Moniz, a secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, warned in July that the decline of the domestic nuclear industry could mean the loss of a valuable tool to tackle climate change, since nuclear plants do not generate carbon dioxide emissions. He also argued that ceding the global nuclear industry to China and Russia could weaken nonproliferation standards. “The U.S. position as a valued supplier is rapidly being eroded,” Mr. Moniz wrote.
For now, Georgia’s utilities insist they can succeed where South Carolina failed. In March, Georgia Power took over control of the Vogtle expansion after Westinghouse, the lead contractor in both states, filed for bankruptcy amid endless construction woes.
“Our experience provides every indication that we can do a better job than Westinghouse alone as we move forward to complete the project,” Paul Bowers, the chief executive of Georgia Power, said in a statement. “The two new units at Plant Vogtle will be in service for 60 to 80 years and will add another low-cost, carbon-free energy source to our already diverse fuel mix.”
But it is not certain that the Georgia reactors, first proposed in 2006, will actually be finished. In its filing, Georgia Power said that completion of the project depended on Congress extending a federal tax credit for new reactors. The company is also counting on $3.7 billion in payments from Toshiba, the parent company of Westinghouse, as part of the latter’s bankruptcy agreement.
Georgia’s Public Service Commission will conduct a six-month review of the Vogtle expansion before making a final decision. In July, Stan Wise, the chairman of the commission, argued that Georgia may be better positioned to finish its reactors than South Carolina, in part because costs would be borne by a broader base of customers: 2.4 million for Georgia Power compared with 700,000 for South Carolina Electric & Gas.
The Vogtle expansion is also backed by $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees awarded by the Obama administration.
Critics noted that the Vogtle project could still be plagued by cost overruns, which would be passed on to ratepayers. The AP1000 is a novel reactor design, reported to have more safety features than previous models, and engineers have so far struggled with the project. Construction began before Westinghouse had finalized its design, and several safety changes had to be made midway through the process that pushed costs far past the initial estimates of $14 billion.