Many nuclear reactors in the US have extended their service beyond their expected decommissioning points, and the low price of natural gas has contributed to the closure of some of these sites. To maintain the current level of nuclear power generation, the country needs to build and open new plants. Unfortunately, the US has not completed a new plant for decades, as a combination of local opposition and major cost overruns left utilities looking to other energy sources.
In recent years, however, the Obama administration has licensed several new nuclear power plants, and five are currently under construction. These plants provide the first opportunity to learn whether modern reactor designs and improved construction techniques can solve the problems that ended plant construction in the 1970s.
However, so far the results are not promising. Southern Co., the owner of the Vogtle site in Georgia, has been delayed in building two new reactors, delays that have left it embroiled in lawsuits with the two main contractors for the reactors, Westinghouse Electric and Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. Now the company has announced further delays that will delay the project for at least another 18 months. That will result in extended financing costs expected to exceed $700 million.
As the AP report notes, a plant with a similar design has also experienced delays and massive cost overruns. Given that competing sources of electricity, including natural gas and renewables, can be deployed much faster and at an established cost, it appears that the US nuclear industry is likely to suffer a long-term decline.