The $29 billion nuclear boondoggle that’s poisoning Black communities by Gloria Tatum

As members of Congress clamored last month to pass a spending bill and avoid a second federal government shutdown, much of the public dialogue revolved more around the standoff between Republicans and Democrats than the contents of the bill.

But for residents of Shell Bluff, a majority-Black, rural community on Georgia’s eastern border, the outcomes are clear. And they’re dire. Among the bill’s many provisions is a measure to extend a tax credit program that was previously set to expire. The program will allocate $800 million to prop up a nuclear power boondoggle that has been plaguing Shell Bluff and the surrounding area for years.

Situated in Burke County on the Savannah River, which forms the Georgia-South Carolina border, Shell Bluff is home to the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, commonly known as Plant Vogtle. Owned largely by Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company, Plant Vogtle has supplied the state with electricity generated by two nuclear reactors since the 1980s.

In 2009, Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC) approved plans to construct two additional reactors at the plant, and allowed Georgia Power to charge ratepayers up front for the construction cost. In so doing, the PSC ignored devastating health and environmental effects the nuclear plant had wrought. In the years following, the PSC would also turn a blind eye to massive cost overruns and construction delays, greenlighting the project to continue in spite of numerous red flags.

People in Burke County have consistently fought to stop the nuclear expansion, which stands to shape the future of nuclear energy nationwide, because it’s the first such expansion to be approved since 1978. Last year, it seemed that opponents to nuclear expansion were near victory when the contractor responsible for building the new reactors went bankrupt. But in December, the PSC voted to let Georgia Power continue the project, if Congress extended the tax credit program, even though it would mean an ultimate price tag of $29 billion, compared to the original $14 billion estimate.

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