Georgia residents may pay for Jaczko’s antinuclear behavior

The flagship project of the US nuclear energy renaissance is in trouble. The people of the great state of Georgia and the investors in Georgia Power may end up footing the bill for actions that have been taken to delay the project. I feel a personal and a professional attachment to the story; I want to share my anger and frustration with others.

On a personal level, my dad was born in Georgia, he dreamed of retiring on a little piece of property that we called Taccoa-60 because it was situated along the Taccoa River right off of Highway 60 near Dahlonega.

We vacationed in the area every other year; we loved tubing and fishing in that river near dad’s “retirement property.” I have fond memories of evenings spent going over Dad’s plans for the small cabin with a big wrap around deck to take advantage of being on “Georgia’s prettiest whitewater stream.” Unfortunately, Dad’s dream never happened. The last time I checked, my widowed mother continues to hold some Southern Company stock that Dad originally purchased as Georgia Power company stock.

Sanmen Unit #1 May 2011

Sanmen Unit #1 May 2011

On a professional level, there is a lot riding on the success of the project to add two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors to the Vogtle site in eastern Georgia along the Savannah River. It is one of only two remaining projects that is actually moving forward out of the finalists for the first round of loan guarantees initially authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It is the only project to have actually been awarded a conditional loan guarantee and the one that is most at risk of having a significant schedule interruption if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission dallies even longer in its review process for the completed design certification license application.

This morning, the Wall Street Journal published Rebecca Smith’s article titled Georgia Eyes Cost Buffer for Nuclear Plant that described how the public utility commission is considering changing the cost recovery rules because they are being pressured by people who think that the project is in danger of a cost and schedule overrun. The company leaders testified that they would have chosen a natural gas project as being “more cost effective” (for the company) if they had known that there was a possibility of the rules of the game being changed six years after the project decision was made.

I have been involved in the financial analysis of enough large projects to know that there are two sure ways to add cost to any project. The first method is to add delay – it always costs more in the end to delay action because the people assigned to the project collect the same daily salaries and wages without making as much daily progress. The second method is to add lawyers to the mix; they are professionally motivated to argue and delay. After all, they bill by the minute.

As Atomic Insights readers know, I am certain that there are plenty of powerful people with strong financial motives for inserting as much cost and schedule delay as possible into any and all nuclear projects. As the Southern company executives testified, the alternative to a nuclear plant is a gas plant. That means that natural gas sales increase substantially if nuclear fails to deliver, even if the reason for the delay is purposeful action to slow progress. Anyone who tries to tell you that they are going to replace a nuclear project with solar or wind is either delusional or lying.

Those of us who agree that nuclear fission is cleaner, safer and more cost effective – especially over the long term – than burning natural gas should stand up and defend the technology against the professional detractors. Even though I work for a company that competes with Westinghouse, I want their project to be a huge success.

Here is the response that I posted in the comment section of Ms. Smith’s Wall Street Journal article.

The sad part of the story was the apparent lack of understanding by the project detractors of the impact of their actions on the cost of the project. The length of time spent building the plant will have a very real impact on the cost of the project due to the fact that more time means more salaries, more interest on borrowed money, and a greater chance of increased prices for materials and equipment purchased and installed at a later time than planned.

Maintaining projected costs and schedules is highly dependent on the actions of regulators and intervenors who continue to slow down progress with legalistic arguments that have nothing to do with safety. The issues that the regulators raised are related to a difference of technical opinion on whether or not is reasonable to neglect the impact of solar heating and cooling while modeling the behavior of the containment building after an accident that releases 600 F water and steam into the building.

Westinghouse went back and recalculated the impact of the minor term in the equation – the final result was that under absolutely worst case conditions, the final pressure inside the containment went up by about 0.3 psi and was still well below the building’s allowed maximum pressure.

The current Chairman of the NRC is a professional political staffer whose complete professional experience following college was working for two avowed antinuclear politicians. He has cost taxpayers in 31 states billions already with his decision to refuse to finish the Yucca Mountain license review; now he is aiming to cost Georgia ratepayers and GA Power investors (remember, utility investors are often widows and orphans) hundreds of millions to billions more. He took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release calling Westinghouse’s application into question over such a technical dispute regarding the significance of terms in a mathematical model.

Americans need to know just how job unfriendly the NRC Chairman is.

Full disclosure – I work for a company that is designing nuclear reactors that will soon need to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I fear for my long term employment and that of hundreds of my colleagues and neighbors.

Rod Adams, Lynchburg, VA

In other nuclear news:

About Rod Adams

20 Responses to “Georgia residents may pay for Jaczko’s antinuclear behavior”

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  1. Jason C says:

    Thanks for posting the pictures of the Sanmen project. It’s amazing to see the apparent progress in just 1 month period between the two photos.

    After this long period of time that the NRC has not ever seen a project from inception to completion, I’m totally convinced they are not capable of doing the job required. Until they prove me wrong, I’d rather see a new quasi-government agency approve, build and run its own nuclear facilities. That seems to be working well for France and China.

    • Speedy says:

      It’s two different units, so the pictures doesn’t show anything about progress. That said, it’s very nice pictures.

  2. SteveK9 says:

    Thanks for the data on the ‘renewables’. Someone like Markey says renewables and hopes, with some confidence, that people will think this is wind and solar, not hydroelectric plants (usually the largest contributor), burning garbage, and mandated ethanol.

  3. donb says:

    Rod Adams wrote:
    NEI Nuclear Notes beat me to the punch and deconstructed the breathless press release issued by Representative Markey, the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources claiming that “renewables” had produced more energy for the US during the first three months of 2011 than nuclear fission had produced.

    Representative Markey should come to Washington State and talk to our politicians and citizens here. The “renewables” mandate forced onto the power utilities in this state (by a vote of the people) specifically excludes any existing hydro generation (though new hydro capacity is included).

    BTW, I voted against the mandate. Avista Utilities, my electric power provider, has had hydro power since day one, and a long-existing biomass plant (fired by wood wastes). Most ironic is that even before the mandate, Avista offered an option to purchase wind power at a price premium. Funny thing, there were very few takers of this option (put your money where your mouth is). But a much greater percentage voted for the mandate (it won’t cost me anything, will it?).

  4. I might add that not only does wood chip burning increase particulate pollution, it depleted the soil of need high-carbon, bio-mass. Better it be ground to saw dust, mixed with soil, along with human created biological kitchen scraps, leftovers from slaughter houses and left to form top soil. This way ALL the carbon would be retained in a usuable product *forever* and not pushed *back* into the atmosphere.

    • John Englert says:

      I really don’t think the waste bio-fuel advocates quite understand the scale of the problem they are trying to solve. They sort of wave their hands over the amount of bio waste mass would be needed to load balance wind and solar generation. The requirement is on the order of 10 billion tons, but the output of the the US is only about 5% of that.

    • donb says:

      I agree with the solution that David Walters proposes. In order for it to work, we need to build more nuclear power plants in Washington State to make up for the loss of generation (though it is only about 50 MW), and to power the plant that would grind up the wood waste.

      As it is, the plant was built in 1983 not so much as some sort of ‘green’ project but rather as a way of making better use of waste from a number of nearby lumber mills. At the time, much of the waste was burnt on site. At least now the waste is burnt more cleanly and serves to generate electric power.

  5. James Greenidge says:

    I’m no lawyer, but what with the Gov’s of New York and Vermount on the anti-nuke loose, I’m wondering whether they can make a case of closing a planet based almost totally on speculative fear? If the historical record of nuclear energy since its conception shows a worker/casuality rate far far below other industrial norms — even accounting for the most massive failures around the world — do they have any leg to stand on other than philosophical bias? Legal Eagles, please fly for me!

    James Greenidge

    • Rich says:

      “the historical record of nuclear energy since its conception shows a worker/causality rate far below other industrial norms ” — Before I retired the data showed that for those US NPPs that were in the lowest quartile on the INPO (Institute of Nuclear Power Operations) ranking on the measurement of “industrial safety/lost time accidents” they still had better safety records than those of the major “accounting firms.” I would not doubt that they are much better today. In fact I think you could add in all (actual not hypothetical) deaths caused at Chernobyl and the numbers would still be better (considering a 30 or 50 year average.)

      • James Greenidge says:

        Wish there was a similar thorough (long!) worker/public – accident/casualty “scorecard” chart rating all nuclear facilties vs all other energy and chemical industries — worst incidents included — out there. It would be a slam-dunk no-brainer positive preference for nuclear energy. What else could the media possibly say??

        James Greenidge

  6. Ioannes says:

    You voted for Obama. Obama put Jackzo in charge. You stated you are proudly democrat. Fill up then on the full measure of your sentiment.

    PS, the Democratic Vermont legislature wants to shut VY down.

    And Democratic NY governor wants to shut IPEC down.

    Democracy – two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner. You know it’s true. You can delete this as inappropriate, but you still know it’s true.

  7. Andy Dawson says:

    for those that may be interested, here’s the formal letter “clearing” the outstanding regulatory issue vis-a-vis the AP1000 design:

    http://www.hse.gov.uk/newreactors/ci-ap1000-2.pdf

    As to the prosepct of Chinese-built components, I do hope so. Cost escalation is far more likely to kill our new build programme than anything else.

    • James Greenidge says:

      Wish there was a similar thorough (long!) worker/public – accident/casualty “scorecard” chart rating all nuclear facilties vs all other energy and chemical industries — worst incidents included — out there. It would be a slam-dunk no-brainer positive preference for nuclear energy. What else could the media possibly say??

      James Greenidge

  8. Janais says:

    You’ve got to be kidding me-it’s so transparetlny clear now!

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