It has been just over two months since I wrote a column about Georgia Power, the Public Service Commission and the construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. I can hear President Ronald Reagan’s voice now: “There you go again.”
Fair enough; if you absolutely don’t care about what happens to your money, don’t read any further. But if you do care and don’t want to be taxed for something you don’t want and don’t need, consider the following: Each month your energy bill is inflated to pay for construction of those two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.
Check your power bill. Look for the notification that reads “Nuclear construction cost recovery.” Another name for this is “Construction Work In Progress,” or CWIP. The legitimacy of CWIP is being challenged, but solving legal matters like this takes time. Meanwhile you — the ratepayer — are being charged in advance for reactors that are not needed and may in fact, never be completed.
Georgia Power is not using the electrical capacity it already has. Moreover, the market has been shrinking steadily for the past three years as alternative sources of power come on line. Last month, the Georgia Public Service Commission had another opportunity to stop construction and mothball the project. The Official Code of Georgia not only gives the PSC power to do this, it obligates it to do so if and when statistical evidence indicates a project is not warranted.
Over the summer, dozens of Georgians wrote to the commissioners reminding them of the state code and asking them to suspend funding and halt construction. They have been ignored, and the PSC gave Georgia Power $389 million in new money for what is looking more and more like a huge boondoggle.
This is your money, money that comes out of your paycheck. The facts are clear and already on record. Go to Nuclear Watch South and look at the figures. Nuclear Watch Coordinator Glenn Carroll states, “It is irresponsible of the PSC to continue ignoring significant public statistics that show the $16 billion Vogtle investment, most of which is public money, is failing the necessity test.”
The PSC will continue to ignore opposition to Vogtle expansion if it possibly can. Deferring to Georgia Power has been its modus operandi for years. Only continued pressure from ratepayers can change that.
Another reason to question nuclear power recently appeared on the horizon. In view of California’s recent earthquake, a senior federal nuclear expert is calling for the shutdown of California’s last operating nuclear power plant. The plant sits near several geological fault lines, and he and other experts are questioning the plant’s ability to withstand a powerful shaking.
The East Coast has its own geological fault lines. The soil is different than the rocky West Coast, but that doesn’t entirely eliminate the danger. The earthquake that devastated Charleston, S.C., in 1886 was one of the worst on record.
Nuclear power is not a practical solution to the nation’s energy problems. It is expensive and vulnerable to a number of negative forces: terrorism, accident, the need for constant government oversight and the ever-present question of what to do with radioactive nuclear waste.
No form of energy production is without risk, but risk is tricky. We are programmed to think in terms of individual risk, and the individual risk from a nuclear accident is very low, but when an accident does occur, it can be catastrophic. Nuclear risk is also long term. To date, no one has come up with a solution to radioactive waste.
I’m not particularly happy pursuing this subject in yet another column. The pro-nuclear crowd have become more vocal and strident with the years, but I simply don’t understand people who are so wedded to anything that they no longer care about facts. This includes the Public Service Commission.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays.