Nuclear-power boosters have pinned their industry's future on the on-time and on-budget completion of the first new reactors being built in decades in Georgia. Such success, they hope, will erase memories of the over-budget and behind-schedule nuclear construction cycle of 30 years ago.
But those expectations may already be falling short.
In January, the watchdog groups Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Friends of the Earth released a report that highlights perceived problems with the $8.33-billion federal loan guarantee for two new reactors at Georgia Power's Vogtle site that has yet to be finalized—more than two years after it was first announced. The Dept. of Energy has extended its negotiations with Georgia Power through June.
That finding follows other project problems. Georgia Power and contractors The Shaw Group and Westinghouse are in court over a $900-million contract dispute, and according to an independent construction monitor, the reactors are 15 months behind schedule. Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann, in an emailed statement, disputed the monitor's findings that Shaw-built modules for the site are causing delays. The court disputes are "not unusual for construction projects of this magnitude and complexity," she adds.
Considering those problems, though, the environmental groups say the credit subsidy fee Georgia Power is slated to pay—the credit subsidy fee is supposed to take into account the risk of the project defaulting—is too low.
According to SACE, Georgia Power would pay a credit subsidy fee of between 0.5% and 1.5%—or $17 million to $52 million—on its $3.5-billion loan guarantee. The amount also hasn't been updated since 2010, so it doesn't reflect the changing market conditions, including the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, the groups said.
SACE says problems with the Vogtle loan are similar to the loan guarantee to failed solar manufacturer Solyndra. However, the group says Vogtle places taxpayers at much greater risk.
Unlike Solyndra, however, Georgia Power says it will complete Vogtle with or without the loan guarantee, says company spokesman Tim Leljedal. Additionally, unlike Solydra, which had no money left when it went bankrupt, the new reactors are being built with the backing of Southern Co.'s $40-billion market cap.
The environmental groups said the analysis highlights DOE's overreliance on external contractors for key risk evaluations as well as DOE's "inadequate control" of the loan guarantee process.
The group's report also points out what it considers "political interference" in the loan guarantee process. In one instance, a 2010 email indicates the DOE didn't deal with Shaw in negotiations over the loan guarantee; instead, the White House did.