by Jordan Schneider
Late last month, utilities responsible for constructing the first new nuclear power reactors in more than two decades announced that the project is now $787 million over budget and more than a year behind schedule.
According to the Associated Press, industry leaders had hoped that the new reactors at Plant Vogtle would prove that new nuclear power plants could be built without the huge cost overruns and delays that notoriously plagued the last round of construction in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Instead, the situation in Georgia is just another case of history repeating itself.
For example, of the 75 nuclear reactors completed between 1966 and 1986, the average reactor cost more than triple its original construction budget, according to a Congressional Budget Office study. And as we highlighted in our 2009 report, The High Cost of Nuclear Power, Plant Vogtle is one of the worst cases of runaway construction costs; the plant’s original budget was $660 million, but the final price tag $8.87 billion – an overrun of 1,200 percent. In addition, the plant took more than 15 years to move from blueprints to being operational, according to a report in New York Times Magazine
Now, with the construction of two new reactors, Plant Vogtle is well on its way to upholding that legacy of sky-high cost overruns. As reported in the Associate Press, the estimated cost of the new construction has increased to $6.85 billion, up from $6.1 billion. Ratepayers have been helping to cover the costs of the new reactors through a surcharge on their utility bills since 2011. Because of the construction delays, the reactors aren’t scheduled to come online until late 2018
In recent years, there have been other attempts to build new nuclear reactors and pass along the costs to ratepayers, such as the Calvert Cliffs project in Maryland, but most of these attempts have either been abandoned or rejected because the costs were simply too high.
Nuclear power is an expensive energy source at every stage, from plant construction to waste disposal and decommissioning. It hurts consumers and threatens public health and safety.
States should stop wasting money on outdated and dangerous energy sources such as nuclear power. According to a recent article in Grist, fast-growing clean energy technologies such as wind are already eating away at profit margins in the nuclear power industry, reducing the economic viability of nuclear power despite the large government subsidies currently keeping the industry afloat.
We should to continue to invest in truly clean energy technologies that protect ratepayers and our environment for the long term.