The Digital Journal, 7 March 2017
BY KAREN GRAHAM
Atlanta - In another setback for the nuclear industry in the United States, Georgia Power has announced they will suspend plans to build a nuclear power plant near Columbus, Georgia.
In a letter to the Georgia State Public Service Commission (PSC) last week, Georgia power told regulators it was shelving its plans to build a nuclear power plant in Stewart County, saying it no longer saw any need for another reactor in the next few years, reports Seeker.com.
It was just last summer that the PSC voted to authorize Georgia Power to spend up to $99 million on "exploring the project" in Stewart County as part of its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), a five-year framework for power plants. But Georgia Power says it can revisit the proposal in its next five-year plan. But for now, the letter stated: "The need date for new nuclear generation has moved outside the current IRP planning horizon."
The decision to drop the plans for a new power plant has caused a lot of comment, with critics of nuclear power blaming the shelving of the Stewart County project on Toshiba Corp. financial meltdown and the news that Toshiba subsidiary Westinghouse Electric Co. has stopped building nuclear plants.
Stephen Smith, the executive director of the Tennessee-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. says, "it’s outrageous that Southern Co. already has spent more than $50 million [in] ratepayer dollars on this proposal. ... Southern Co. already has ratepayers paying too much for the over-budget and behind schedule Vogtle nuclear units.”
Southern Company is Georgia Power’s corporate parent. The expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Augusta, which Georgia Power is sharing with three other power companies is already three years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Nuclear industry is in meltdown for several reasons
Let’s talk about Toshiba Corporation, first. In 2016, Toshiba was trying to recover from an accounting scandal where they padded their reported profits by about $1.7 billion over the course of seven years. If that in itself wasn’t bad enough to hurt the company’s long-term goals, a downturn in the nuclear industry added to their problems.
Revelations that Toshiba is facing multi-billion dollar losses and write-downs have investors worried, along with fears the company may be pulling out of any future nuclear construction projects. As a matter of fact, last year Toshiba said it hoped to win 50 contracts to build new nuclear plants in India and China.
However, in January this year, Toshiba signaled to investors that its subsidiary of the Cranberry-based Westinghouse Electric Company would be getting out of the business of building nuclear reactors.
But the world can’t put all the blame on Toshiba’s business woes for the downturn in the nuclear industry. The industry’s problems were summarized in the July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report:
"Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel-based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables."
In 2016, global nuclear power capacity increased by only 9.2 gigawatts (GW). However, renewable electricity capacity growth increased worldwide by over 153 gigawatts. And renewable energy sources are continuing to grow as improvements in technology make clean energy more affordable to the public.