Predictions Realized: With Taxpayers on the Hook, Cost of US Nuclear Plants Soar

Delays and overruns at three nuclear projects could cost $2 billion

Despite assurances from the nuclear industry that they would not repeat mistakes of the past, the first nuclear reactors being built in the United States in over 30 years are headed toward hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more, in cost overruns and years of delays, according to new reports.

Opponents of nuclear power have long argued that in addition to the inherent safety threat of nuclear power, the idea that the nuclear energy is "cheap" has been a bogus claim made by the industry -- a fact they say is proved by the private sector's unwillingness to invest in plant construction without enormous taxpayer-backed loan guarantees and subsidies by state and federal government.

Now, analysis by the Associated Press suggests that the combined overruns from projects in Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina could top $2 billion. Much of that cost would fall to rate-payers and taxpayers.

In the case of the new Vogtle reactor being built in Georgia -- where overruns are in the hundreds of millions -- a representative of a nuclear watchdog group told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the utility companies were misleading about their declarations to be on time and on budget.

"They promised us this time it would be different. They were going to streamline it; they were going to get it organized in advance so that it would go smoothly," said Mark Cooper, a senior research fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School's energy and environment institute.

The AP's review of pending projects found:

  • Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia, initially estimated to cost $14 billion, has run into over $800 million in extra charges related to licensing delays. A state monitor has said bluntly that co-owner Southern Co. can't stick to its budget. The plant, whose first reactor was supposed to be operational by April 2016, is now delayed seven months.

  • The long-mothballed Watts Bar power plant in eastern Tennessee, initially budgeted at $2.5 billion, will cost up to $2 billion more, the Tennessee Valley Authority concluded this spring. The utility said its initial budget underestimated how much work was needed to finish the plant and wasted money by not completing more design work before starting construction. The project had been targeted to finish in 2012, but has been postponed until 2015.

  • Plant Summer in South Carolina, expected to cost around $10.5 billion, has seen costs jump by $670 million. A deadline to put the first new reactor online has been delayed from 2016 to 2017; the second reactor is now eight months ahead of schedule, targeted for early 2018.

Earlier this year, US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), along with Taxpayers for Common Sense president Ryan Alexander, wrote: "without federal liability insurance and loan guarantees, no one would ever build a new nuclear plant. Whether you support nuclear energy or not, we should all be able to agree that with record debt, we cannot afford to continue to subsidise this mature industry and its multibillion-dollar corporations."

"If the nuclear industry believes so fervently in its technology, then it and Wall Street investors can put their money where their mouth is. Let's let them finance it, insure it, and pay for it themselves," they said.

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