Where now there are two nuclear reactors, soon there will be four.
Where now there are two nuclear reactors, soon there will be four.
Georgia Power Company

Advocates of building a low-carbon economy with nuclear power can rejoice: Construction is underway to build America’s first new nuclear reactors in 30 years.

But any residents of Waynsboro, Ga., who are concerned about the threat of radiation leaks or meltdown at the nearby nuclear plant will soon have twice as much reason to worry.

Plant Vogtle, where two nuclear reactors have operated since the late 1980s, is expanding. Two new reactors are scheduled to be up and running by 2018 — assuming there are no more delays, which would be an unwise assumption. The project is backed by an $8.3 billion loan guarantee from the Obama administration.

During a 41-hour construction spree last week, a six-inch deep concrete foundation measuring 250 feet by 160 feet was laid beneath the future site of Plant Vogtle Unit 3. “We are very proud of this accomplishment,” Georgia Power Nuclear Development Executive Vice President Buzz Miller said in a press release.

The plant was originally envisioned as a four-reactor facility, and opponents of the project are not thrilled to see this old vision become a modern reality. From the website of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which opposes the project:

Plant Vogtle was one of the last and most costly nuclear plants built in the country. Original estimates for four reactors were $660 million. Eventually, only two reactors were built, costing more than $8 billion, resulting at the time in the largest rate hike in Georgia. Unfortunately, Georgia utilities are venturing down this costly and risky path again.

Concerns about costs are reemerging because utility company Southern Co. announced last month that construction had been delayed by a year and that costs were growing, prompting it to seek reimbursement from the state’s electricity customers. From the AP:

The Atlanta-based utility formally asked regulators to raise its budget to build two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle (VOH’-gohl) by about $737 million to roughly $6.85 billion. Additional costs are possible. Companies designing and building the plant have sued the utility seeking $425 million for unexpected project costs, though the utility has filed its own suit and denies responsibility for those expenses. …

Delays have pushed back the timeline for completing the two reactors from April 2016 and April 2017 to late 2017 and 2018. Southern Co. said it was trying to determine whether the pace can be quickened.

Gregory Jaczko, former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was the only member of the five-person commission to vote against approving the Vogtle plant last year. “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened,” Jaczko said at the time of the vote. But his colleagues disagreed, and now here we are.