Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nuclear Plant Delayed Yet Again - Costs Soar

Subtitle:  Vogtle Plant Expansion approaching $17 billion and 3 years late

The twin-reactor nuclear power plant under construction at the Vogtle site in Georgia (US) has once again had delays and cost over-runs. see link.   From the article:  

“The abysmal failure to execute this project, with the long delays, repeated construction screw-ups and escalating costs, means that even if Vogtle (expansion) is completed, it will not be the starting gun of the race for new (nuclear) reactor construction in the U.S.,” said Mark Cooper, a fellow with the Institute for Energy and the Environment. “It will be the mausoleum in which nuclear power is laid to rest.”  
Vogtle nuclear power plant and expansion project --
Wiki Commons by Charles C. Watson Jr.

This is not a surprise (see link) as nuclear power plants are almost always reported (and sold) at a figure far below the final cost, and their startup dates are optimistically stated as many years before they finally start. It will likely be at least 10 years total, maybe more, to get the plant running.   The project was announced with a 4 year construction period for the first reactor, and clearly that will not happen as 3 years are already added to the schedule. 

The consequences to the utility, and ultimately the rate-payers, are grim.  This is for at least three reasons: 1), the builder must pay interest on the construction loans, 2)  inflation keeps increasing the prices of labor and materials, and 3) the utility must keep purchasing power to send into the grid, power that the nuclear plant is not producing. This may be from keeping older plants running past their shutdown date, or buying power from others. None of this is news, as the South Texas Nuclear Plant (STNP) showed clearly back about 30 years ago. Austin, San Antonio, and Houston all were scrambling to find power for their cities when the STNP ran years and years over schedule. The power they had to purchase was very, very expensive.   

One can speculate what problems are causing the cost over-runs and the delays.   Typical delays on large projects include, but are not limited to, tearing out and re-working faulty construction, equipment suppliers providing late or defective items, serious adverse weather, unforeseen site conditions, and redesign for new regulatory (NRC) requirements.  Also, delays can be caused by worker slowdowns, lawsuits for allowable causes, owner-contractor disputes, contractor-subcontractor disputes, faulty design that requires corrections, acts of God or the enemy (force majeur), improper scheduling by the contractor, inadequate workforce staffing or untrained workforce (learning on the job), poor supervision, and others. 

Even with the unprecedented move of charging rate-payers more on their monthly bills while the plant is constructed, this Vogtle plant will be very costly, perhaps as much as $20 billion at completion.  It may very well require more than 10 years to complete.  At that, it should indeed be the "mausoleum in which nuclear power is laid to rest".   

Sadly, nuclear proponents have only rose-colored glasses and will say something like "it is wrong to condemn an entire industry because one new-technology plant was a bit over-budget."     In the same vein as the nuclear safety mantra, with its steady progression from “no one has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has ever been injured”, to “no member of the public has died”, to “nuclear power is safer than coal or natural gas,”  nuclear proponents dig ever-deeper in finding creative ways to vainly justify the enormous costs and years-long schedule overruns for nuclear power plants. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.

Marina del Rey, California   
copyright (c) 2015 by Roger Sowell

No comments: