Monday, August 07, 2017

Nuclear Power's Slow Demise

Two of the remaining four nuclear power plants to be constructed in the US have been cancelled, both at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina.  The remaining plants are at the Vogtle site in Georgia.  The cancellations are writing on the wall, and it does not take a Daniel to decypher the demise of new nuclear power in the United States.  As long as the drilling boom continues producing inexpensive natural gas, nuclear power is uneconomic.  Renewable power sources are also rapidly becoming less expensive, making it even more difficult to justify the social risk of nuclear power.

The industry has a deplorable history of cost overruns, huge maintenance costs, and an unsolved radioactive waste disposal problem, not to mention two epic meltdowns and one near miss in the US.  Richard Nixon touted that nuclear power generation in the US would reach 1,000 plants by 2000.  The inventory never got beyond about 250, on-line or in development.  Cancellation of the two Vogtle plants would be the definitive end of the nuclear wet dream.  One of the Carolina plant owners, Santee-Cooper voted unanimously on July 31st. to shut down construction.  The state owned utility had been forced to raise rates five times to pay for its nuclear Edsel.  Soon after their announcement, partner SCANA Corp. also called it quits. It had raised its rates nine times.

The cancelled plants were to be Westinghouse's 'new and improved' AP1000 designs, an update of the standard pressurized water reactor fizzing out the kilowatts all over the world. In an irony that is too 'yuge' to ignore, Westinghouse's big bet on nuclear power drove the nearly 200 year old company into bankruptcy in March.  Westinghouse won the contract to generate among the first load of commercial power from Niagara Falls using technology developed by Nicola Tesla.  Westinghouse's parent company, Toshiba is also in financial trouble.  It has offered $2 billion to help complete the plants, but an estimated $11 billion is needed.  Moreover, the owners figured they could not meet the completion deadline of 2021 to receive a critical federal tax credit.

The Vogtle facilities are also costing an arm and a leg.  The Georgia legislature took the unusual step of allowing owners to collect increased rates even before the plants begin commercial service, if ever.  Obamarama gave the Georgia utilities involved in the project $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees, and it still may not be enough. {18.02.10, Obama's Nuclear Con}  Only China is planning to build new secular cathedrals to man's hubris. Perhaps the continuing tragedy of Fukushima will be enough to convince elites that "too cheap to meter" is only a memorable sales pitch, not a livable reality.