To borrow a time-honored presidential phrase, this is huge.
In the face of a monumental bankruptcy, a failure at a similar project next door in South Carolina, months of lingering doubt, mounting costs and a daunting task ahead, Georgia Power has announced its intention – and determination – to complete the nation’s first two commercial nuclear reactors in decades.
The news could hardly be bigger for this region or this country.
A second failed nuclear plant project – after the recent abandonment of the twin-reactor V.C. Summer nuclear construction in South Carolina – would’ve been as much of a psychological blow to American intrepidness and ingenuity as it would’ve been an economic or electrical hit.
More importantly to this region, Georgia Power’s decision – along with its partner utilities’ – means the continued prospect of vibrant, well-paying construction jobs, operation jobs and 60 to 80 years of clean, reliable energy.
Georgia Power and its partners had been eerily guarded about the outlook for Vogtle nuclear reactors 3 and 4 near Waynesboro ever since Westinghouse, which built Vogtle units 1 and 2, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
The utilitities announced their decision to move forward in a filing with the Georgia Public Service Commission on Thursday.
The filing coincided with a tremendous release into the atmosphere of relief across the state.
“I’m extremely pleased to learn the co-owners of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 have recommended completion of construction,” a delighted Gov. Nathan Deal said. “Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power and Dalton Utilities have made the right decision for our state. These new units will provide clean and affordable energy to Georgians for more than 60 years while creating 6,000 jobs during project construction and 800 well-paying, permanent ones after.”
“With today’s announcement,” noted area U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, the 12th Congressional District “continues to be at the forefront of nuclear energy expansion in the United States. In order to continue to be a dominant player in the global nuclear industry, invest in our own energy independence and provide clean, low cost energy to Georgians it is vital to continue this project and I applaud the owners in making what I know was a tough decision. I will continue to do all I can to support these projects, because the future of nuclear energy in America depends on it.”
When the V.C. Summer reactors northeast of Columbia were abandoned in July, the New York Times called it “a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States.”
If and when the Vogtle reactors go online – they’re scheduled to do so in 2021 and 2022, respectively – will that be seen as a blow for American nuclear power?
Of course, even with the fortitude and persistence of our friends at Georgia Power et al., nothing is assured. Toshiba, the parent company of Westinghouse, has agreed to pay $3.7 billion to complete the project – which it says shouldn’t be a problem. And Department of Energy loan guarantees, as well as government tax credits, must also be extended for the construction.
In short, there’s still a long way to go.
But at least we’re not turning back.