Glenn Carroll: Georgia Power Stuck in a Nuclear Jam

Georgia is among few states that do not have renewable energy standards or goals.

Everybody except for Georgia is jumping on the wind and solar bandwagon, but Georgia Power is side-lined in a nuclear jam like a horse-buggy manufacturer at the dawning of the Ford assembly line

Solar and wind are setting records in output and lower costs. Technological breakthroughs in collection and storage of wind and solar have been developed and deployed at such a rapid clip that renewable energy sources are now contributing more electricity to the grid, at lower cost, than nuclear. The historic shift has analysts now harking the coming day when wind and solar will undercut King Coal as well.

It’s easy to see how Georgia Power could get into a nuclear jam. President Bush tried to jumpstart a “nuclear renaissance” by dangling multi-billion dollar enticements to high-stakes utilities like Georgia Power. Georgia Power’s parent company Southern Company had a Federal Reserve Bank-connected CEO position the company at the head of the short list for $8.3 billion in low-interest tax-funded federal loans to build two additional nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia. But now Fukushima has changed everything and the nuclear renaissance is a bust, but Georgia Power is left stuck practically alone in a nuclear jam.

This isn’t the first time Georgia Power, and Georgia, have been taken in by federal nuclear promises. Georgia Power only got in the nuclear game after the feds promised to take charge of the radioactive wastes that are generated with nuclear energy. The 1998 nuclear waste deadline has long passed and no new promises are even on the table. Thousands of tons of dangerous high-level radioactive wastes remain indefinitely stored in flimsy warehouses on the banks of Georgia rivers vulnerable to catastrophic loss of coolant and fuel pool fires.

Well meaning Georgia legislators and the Public Service Commission pushed Georgia Power further into the nuclear jam by giving Georgia Power a hefty $2 billion rate hike for “nuclear construction costs.” The escalating rate hike even includes $1 billion of pure profit to Georgia Power for the purpose of ensuring the company will qualify for the low-interest tax-funded federal loan it’s been promised by the feds.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reviewing the reactor design proposed to be built at Georgia Power’s Vogtle has thus far failed to mobilize a safety response to the Japanese nuclear disaster and the agency’s in-fighting has landed them before Congress for investigation. Undeterred by internal trouble, the NRC screwed the lid tighter on Georgia Power’s nuclear jam by rushing a majority vote to license the risky new reactor design before completing the Fukushima safety review, placing Georgia Power, and Georgia electric customers, at risk of future unknown and probably expensive reactor safety design upgrades after construction begins.

Industry predictions that gave rationale to the pursuit of new nuclear reactors have been upended by a marked downward trend in electric consumption. Do-it-yourself solar panel installations are sold at major hardware stores and home centers. Simple technologies available to consumers, like LED lighting, and clotheslines will further boost the positive energy conservation trends.

May Georgia Power remember the hard lessons of building Vogtle 1 and 2 before all Georgians experience the tragic lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima! Georgia Power must correct its course or it will spend the next decade mired in a complex nuclear project while the world moves on. Georgia Power’s blind commitment to outmoded nuclear power robs all Georgians of our opportunity to harness the benign sun and wind power abundant in our state.

So … how can Georgia Power get out of its nuclear jam? A good first step in the right direction would be to install solar panels on the 40-acre site already cleared for Vogtle 3 and 4.

Glenn Carroll is a visual artist and long-time coordinator of Nuclear Watch South, a grassroots environmental organization established in 1977, which frequently collaborates with Georgia WAND on nuclear issues. Current campaigns include stopping Georgia Power’s reactor expansion at Vogtle and shutting down the MOX plutonium fuel project at Savannah River Site.