back to article First US nuclear power plant built this century goes online

It's more than half a decade late coming online and has cost billions more than estimated, but Georgia Power's Vogtle Unit 3, the first US nuclear reactor built from scratch this century, has finally come online.  Located near Waynesboro, Georgia, the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant's third reactor will supply an …

  1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge


    Billions over budget and serves half a million homes? The ROI is going to take a while even if it runs for free.

    This is a good start but they need to be cheaper.

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: ROI?

      The cost for both reactors is $28b.

      They will make around $876m a year per reactor so $1.75b a year (gross profit) and electricity prices are only going to go up over the reactors life.

      The plant has a total running cost of $0.023 per kwh, so each reactor will cost $225m a year, so $450m for both.

      So that means the plant will have a net profit of $1.3b a year (at current prices)

      So assuming electricity prices don't rise it will take 22 years to break even and then have another 40 years of profit, in reality they will break even much sooner.

      1. John Routledge

        Re: ROI?

        Thanks for the calcs, but that emphasizes how terrible an investment these are for the private sector. Considering construction began in 2009, they've already been stacking up losses for 14 years. And that's not including development work carried out before then. Most investors like to see a return on their investment within their lifetime.

        Nuclear power is needed, but we should probably expect more taxpayer involvement if these are to be built in larger numbers.

        1. blackcat Silver badge

          Re: ROI?

          A good way to minimise losses is to get the design finished before starting and not to f-up the build.

          We've seen this time and time again on infrastructure projects and not just nuclear. Crossrail was fairly notorious. Didn't the A380 also run into issues where they were still designing bits as they made the first few aircraft?

          1. TheRealRoland

            Re: ROI?

            Agile, baby!

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: ROI?

            The fundamental problem at Crossrail - I am told - was that they chose to use a completely new signalling system instead of tried-and-tested off-the-shelf stuff. Which was bad enough, but the trains also have to use conventional signalling systems at both ends. Getting the new bit to work took years, getting the old stuff to wok as well took another year.

          3. toejam++

            Re: ROI?

            Not only finished, but locked. Supposedly one issue with Vogtle was that the NRC forced them to make an expensive security-related change during the middle of construction.

            1. David 132 Silver badge

              Re: ROI?

              The NRC forced them to make an expensive security-related change during the middle of construction

              "Do NOT plug in that router. Our extensive research shows that the SCADA management system probably shouldn't be connected to the Internet."

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: ROI?

          "Nuclear power is needed, but we should probably expect more taxpayer involvement if these are to be built in larger numbers."

          Really, you want more politicians in the loop making/not making decisions about things they have no training in?

          The problem I see is that utility companies are treated the same as any other large corporation. If the management sees they could make more money someplace else to "maximize shareholder value (line their own pockets), they'll do that. Why does the power company need to buy the naming rights to a sports stadium and put billboards up all over the place when (in the US), they enjoy a monopoly over a region? It's done differently in other parts of the world, but that's mainly middlemen and not generators and the companies that own the lines.

          It would be more appropriate for there to be an additional class of business that must reinvest in itself and limit executive salaries, etc. There does have to be a distinction these days for companies selling car charging. It took some time in the US to get many laws changed in states that mandated that any firm selling electricity by the kWh be registered as a 'public utility'. That was too onerous so those charging companies had to charge by the minute instead. I'd hate to see more government involvement with utilities. There's too much danger of politics and it can take forever for decisions to be made, especially during the half of the term the politicians are campaigning for re-election. Planning also gets done in very short time frames corresponding to election cycles with no long term thinking. Just look at NASA's projects.

          1. I could be a dog really Bronze badge

            Re: ROI?

            I think the comment was more that when you think about the amounts involved, and the timescales, then realistically you need government scale investment - it's simply not feasible for many private companies to do that. Up near me there were plans for 3off AP1000 plants for around 4GW capacity. That's not just stayed on the drawing board, it's dead and buried.

            And whether you agree or not (I could have splinters from sitting on the fence), that's why things like guaranteed price (contract for difference) is needed to get things going.

            And it's supposedly one of the arguments for SMRs - the initial investment is lower, the "cut turf to generate income" period is lower, and you can build capacity by adding modules as your income stream starts up. In theory, I don't think we've actually seen real figures yet.

      2. Snake Silver badge

        Re: costs

        AND...your computations didn't even take decommissioning into account: the breakup, the cleanup, and the disposal of the waste materials.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: costs

          "AND...your computations didn't even take decommissioning into account: the breakup, the cleanup, and the disposal of the waste materials."

          In the US, customers are billed a small 'decommissioning charge' on their monthly bill that should be held in escrow until it's time to shut the plant down. The disposal of nuclear waste in the US is the responsibility of the government. That the government hasn't come up with a facility has been a problem that just keeps getting swept along. It was decided that doing the collection and storage was better this way so to make sure it was done properly and materials didn't get diverted. Theory, meet practice.

          1. Snake Silver badge

            Re: billing

            My comment wasn't regarding the financing of the decommissioning, just that the cost is almost never factored into the discussion of operational & electric sale costs of a nuclear reactor. Cost estimates for decommissioning vary widely, generally from $320 to 560 million in today's dollars,


            and the NRC recently updated its cost analysis for disposal



            My point is that the industry slips these costs in as amortization and depreciation, not as cost per mWh due to the fact that they [can] bill the decommissioning costs to the consumer as a separate line item. Note "can", because in actuality there is no rule that states that they must amortize the decommissioning costs across years of operation; an operator also has the other options of setting aside these charges at the start, or end, of the plant's operational life as a once-only line charge (as per, page 42). So, therefore, the costs of decommissioning remains as a separate discussion from "consumer mWh costs", and often conveniently doesn't come up during debates regarding nuclear 'affordability'; governments subsidize the nuclear industry through programs for disposal and long-term storage.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              US Decomissioning costs

              Yeah, the math is about as twisted and creative as international sales numbers in the music or movie industries.

              The companies have no incentive to control costs or avoid leaving Hanford sized problems behind. There isn't enough money in the pool to cover the real decommissioning costs, leading to frequent "adjustments" to the mystery fee's on people's power bills, and the companies doing the work have no incentive to hold down costs either. The power companies, which operate as local monopolies, have caps on their rates and controls on rate increases, which instead of controlling costs, incentivizes them to push them up in "clever" ways because they are allowed take a percentage of the totals.

              Hence we have a system with no transparency, is rife with waste and fraud, and where we incentivize the company to drive up costs and saddle them on the ratepayers, usually as mystery "fees".

      3. deive

        Re: ROI?

        EU: "Nuclear energy averages 0.4 euro ¢/kWh, much the same as hydro; coal is over 4.0 ¢/kWh (4.1-7.3), gas ranges 1.3-2.3 ¢/kWh and only wind shows up better than nuclear, at 0.1-0.2 ¢/kWh average. NB these are the external costs only. If these costs were in fact included, the EU price of electricity from coal would double and that from gas would increase 30%. These are without attempting to include the external costs of global warming."

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: ROI?

      "This is a good start but they need to be cheaper."

      laws need to change:

      * Tort reform to GREATLY discourage malicious lawsuits by "environmental" (aka disruptive/communist) organizations

      * standardization and mandatory EXPEDITING of environmental impact and related "studies" (max 3 months for approval / public comment, let's say)

      * Fast-tracking (in general)

      * Use of 'Interstate Commerce' in the USA for power placed on the grid so that individual states (like California) can NOT "slow walk" new construction. [unfortunately this could also backfire like calling down a napalm strike on YOUR location]

      * Making it ILLEGAL for a state like California to literally DISCRIMINATE against power producers on the grid who produce cheaper but "non-renewable" power from out of state (say Nevada, Arizona) to feed the California grid and create lower energy prices for Californians

      This kind of REGULATORY REFORM should cut the time between USA power plant construction to maybe 1 year instead of FIFTY.

  2. trevorde Silver badge


    Difficult to be impressed when everyone knows the UK is the world leader in deploying nuclear reactors:

    And hospitals.

    1. TVU Silver badge

      Re: Meh!

      The UK used to be a world leader in developing civilian nuclear reactors, e.g. with the development of gas cooled reactors and the establishment of Winfrith Atomic Energy Establishment in Dorset where steam generating heavy water reactors were developed.

      Sadly, years of neglect under both Conservative and Labour governments meant that the momentum to develop and deploy nuclear reactors was lost and Winfrith ended up being closed in 1990. It is pretty much a case study of the UK's neglect of science funding over the decades.

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Meh!

      The government is all aspiration without inspiration. Thus no oxygen gets to their brains.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear waste will be a big problem, as usual.... and this is the elephant in the room nobody want to talk about.

    Preferably stored somewhere else* without the public knowing is a major bonus.

    *bribing a corrupt african dictator/president most likely, making it their problem...

    Also, the blades of wind turbines are not biodegradable, and is also a huge issue.

    1. blackcat Silver badge

      The nuclear waste issue is much less of an issue than claimed and the timescales quoted by the scaremongers are basically bollocks. They focus on the large numbers which are not actually the dangerous bits of the waste.

      Recycling and putting the material back in the ground where we found it works just fine. As you say, this is something we can't do with wind turbine blades.

    2. TVU Silver badge

      "Nuclear waste will be a big problem, as usual.... and this is the elephant in the room nobody want to talk about"

      That might have been the case two or three decades ago but it certainly isn't the case now. As ever, the Nordic states (Sweden and Finland) have shown the lead with the development of waste storage in deep, stable geological formations with the spent waste fuel being sealed inside copper canisters with cast iron inserts which are then placed in the stable bedrock where the canisters are then embedded in compacted bentonite clay,

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        development of waste storage in deep, stable geological formations

        There's plenty of granite locations in the UK that would be suitable..

        Cornwall [1] or parts of Scotland sping to mind. Drill a *big* hole, encase the waste in something durable that won't rot/corrode easily then fill the hole in again..

        [1] My father-in-law had (or rented) a granite quarry in Cornwall during his career as a monumental stonemason. His father had used the same quarry - quite a lot of the granite kerbstones in Lambeth came from his quarry..

    3. localzuk Silver badge

      Coal waste is more of a problem than nuclear waste these days...

      1. Mishak Silver badge

        And don't forget that burning coal release more radiation into the environment than a nuclear plant*.

        * assuming it doesn't "have issues".

      2. Is there anybody out there?

        really - how so?

        1. blackcat Silver badge

          There is some truth to that article but also some misleading parts. Yes, the UK has a very messy legacy left over from bomb making and much 'we will deal with this later' thinking. But also the standard which these academics are using to define 'clean' would mean every coal power station in the UK would require billions of £ in cleanup. There is uranium and thorium in coal (it is where they first found both elements) and this ends up in the ash.

          If a nuclear power station didn't have any fuel rod leakage (and most don't!) then once it has been defueled it is actually pretty safe. The materials used will have absorbed some neutrons and become slightly radioactive but these are not the nasty materials found in the fuel itself. The graphite will have some carbon isotopes in it of which the only one with a half life of more than a few minutes is carbon14. Something which is created naturally in the atmosphere. The best thing to do is leave it alone, let it sit for a while and then you can knock it down. But we seem obsessed with clearing the sites as soon as possible and that costs a LOT more.

          The legacy mess stems from our rush to make an A-bomb and then an H-bomb (the Windscale fire was part of this) where the politicians just wanted their plutonium and deuterium and didn't care about the leftovers. We had to make thing go bang to show the yanks we were clever. We also have a mess from the 70's where the reactors were run full throttle to keep the lights on and the spent fuel stacked up faster than it could be dealt with. So they stuck it in the cooling pond and left it there. The cladding has corroded away leaving a right mess.

          In the 80s they wanted to build a dry store to avert that particular mess but nothing happened.

          If you were starting from scratch on a civilian nuclear programme and had this history to learn from you'd do it very differently. In the US it was all out in the middle of no-where so they just dug big holes and pushed it into them. FFS they deliberately exploded reactor cores in the open air to see what would happen!!

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            "We had to make thing go bang to show the yanks we were clever."

            There were many British scientists (some with freshly minted passports) working on the Bomb.

            The waste issue goes to show how most governments aren't competent to handle important things. The vast majority of politicians studied law, not science.

        2. localzuk Silver badge

          I will direct you to Aberfan. There's loads of similar heaps... Leaching zinc, cadmium and other toxic metals into the groundwater.

    4. Marty McFly Silver badge

      Nonsense! Wind turbine blades burn just fine when properly ignited!

      Icon, because it seems fitting.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge

      "Also, the blades of wind turbines are not biodegradable, and is also a huge issue."

      THIS PART, at least, is true.

      the whole "Carbon Footprint" thing is an anti-science hoax anyway. Basic chemistry and physics disproves their nonsense. Human nature and the seeking of power over others by elitists explains it.

      [Orwell was an optimist]

  4. StLMintNewbee

    I’m hoping my power company gets out of this windmill business and builds the second nyc reactor at callaway plant. Let’s do it!

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