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King: Pilgrims seek spiritual fire
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The Public Service Commission meets today for a semiannual review. I’ll be there. I’m anxious to see what the commissioners have to say about cost overruns at Plant Vogtle, Georgia Power’s nuclear facility near Waynesboro.

Last week, The Times published a front-page story warning that the new construction is over budget and behind schedule. No surprises there. Vogtle’s two original reactors took 20 years to complete and were 1,200 percent over budget by the time they went online.

What is different and interesting is the language used in the latest progress report. Two state regulators, William Jacobs, a nuclear engineer, and Steven Roetger, a financial analyst, said Georgia Power’s lack of a proper production schedule, “... runs counter to any prudent project management, nuclear or otherwise.” Remember that word “prudent.” It may be the key to mothballing the project.

One doesn’t usually hear criticism of Georgia Power within officialdom, but outside the Capitol there’s been quite a bit of controversy. I‘ve written columns about reactors 3 and 4; so have others. High on the list of complaints is the way they’re being financed.

Georgia Power is funding them through a CWIP program. CWIP stands for “construction work in progress” and means ratepayers are charged for the project based on its proposal, not its completion.

In other words, Georgia Power’s ratepayers are paying for Vogtle reactors 3 and 4 right now and will keep on paying as long as construction continues. In essence, CWIP is nothing but a tax to cover the cost of another unneeded (explained in previous columns) and unwanted project, a project that benefits no one but the nuclear industry and its friends in government.

It’s depressing to see so little resistance from the public. But then lots of things are depressing these days. That’s why I’m encouraged by what a small band of activists are doing in response to this and other environmental issues.

They’re not taking to the streets. They’re planning a pilgrimage from “Source to Sea.” It will begin with a ceremony on Whiteside Mountain. Then these modern pilgrims will hike the Chattooga Trail to the river and paddle to Lake Hartwell. Hartwell feeds into the Savannah River. After that ... on to the sea!

A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey undertaken by people dedicated to an ideal. In this case, the ideal is the river itself. The Savannah River impacts more then 15 counties in two states. Once free-flowing and clean, it is now the third most polluted river in the country, and because of the nuclear reactors located along its banks, some of that pollution is radioactive.

Now an informal flotilla of canoes and kayaks, the pilgrims will stop at the Augusta Canal to meet with local environmentalists concerned about Plant Vogtle and the Savannah River Site, and to celebrate the river with some of the people who live along its banks.

The pilgrimage will also commemorate the fourth anniversary of Fukushima and the 36th anniversary of Three Mile Island, March 11 and March 28, respectively. I am struck by how different this protest is from the mobs we’ve seen in the news recently. These people are true peacemakers ... musicians, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, lovers of the earth.

The only physical fires they will start are campfires. They seek instead a spiritual fire. One of the group is a filmmaker. Another is a musician and songwriter. They want to enrich the earth with their art, not pollute it with industrial waste and radioactive nucleotides.

If you’re tired of protestors who throw rocks and burn buildings, support those who demonstrated peacefully and in harmony with the earth.

• • •

Remember that word “prudent”? The Georgia PSC regulates state monopolies. Its job is to see public utilities like Georgia Power are safe, reliable, and their rates are reasonably priced. Furthermore, by law, these utilities must prove they are technically competent. Any project they undertake must be deemed prudent.

Joan King lives in Sautee. 

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