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Georgia power adding up costs of nuclear reactors' delay

ATLANTA — Georgia Power Co. said Thursday it is tallying up the costs of newly announced delays in the construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle and will submit the estimate to regulators at the end of the month.

The utility disclosed to its shareholders recently that the contractors need another 18 months to complete their work on top of the delays already reported. Georgia Power says its contract requires the builders to pay penalties for missing the deadline, but owner-related costs of added financing and alternative electricity generation will mount at $40 million per month.

At that pace, it will be three years behind schedule and, by some estimates, as much as $4 billion over budget.

“Overall, we are not satisfied with the revised forecast, and our responsibility is to minimize the impact to customers,” said Jacob Hawkins, a Georgia Power spokesman. “We are committed to holding the contractor accountable for all appropriate costs related to the delay, and we continue to expect them to employ all possible means to meet schedule targets, while maintaining a focus on safety.”

Nuclear-power critics are using the news — and Monday’s anniversary of federal loan guarantees for the project — as an opportunity to reinforce their argument that conservation and renewable energy are more affordable ways to meet

consumer demands.

“The abysmal failure to execute this project, with the long delays, repeated construction screw-ups and escalating costs means that even if Vogtle is completed, it will not be the starting gun of the race for new 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.”

He argues that with inflation and interest rates coming in lower than what was expected when Vogtle was planned, construction costs should have gone down instead of up. And Georgia Power says that is exactly how it will work out for consumers over the life of the plant.

The plant was projected to add 12 percent to power rates but will only add 4, based on current calculations. The ultimate impact will depend on how much of the budget overruns the Public Service Commission allows the utility to pass along to customers.

Peter Bradford, a Carter-era member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and vice chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the complexity, size and safety considerations of nuclear reactors make them inherently more costly than other construction, including other types of power plants.

“Not a single over run, cancellation or delay can be traced to environmental involvement or for that matter to the vagaries of the nuclear licensing process since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has done all that it can to accommodate the needs of the industry,” he said.

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