Energy Department to Approve Billions in Nuclear Backing

Aerial view of the Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant. Existing reactors (#1 and #2, domed structures in center) and cooling towers (on the right). The construction site for reactors #3 and #4 is on the left.  
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Feb. 18, 2014, 9:53 a.m.

En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz will an­nounce Wed­nes­day that he is giv­ing fi­nal ap­prov­al for a mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar loan guar­an­tee for the first nuc­le­ar re­act­ors to be built in the U.S. in more than 30 years, ac­cord­ing to a source fa­mil­i­ar with the news.

The li­censee for the re­act­ors, South­ern Com­pany, re­ceived con­di­tion­al ap­prov­al of the $8.3 bil­lion loan guar­an­tee in Feb­ru­ary 2010. Once made fi­nal, the loan will help sup­port con­struc­tion of two new re­act­ors at the com­pany’s Vo­gtle plant in Waynes­boro, Ga.

The loan con­di­tion­ally ap­proved in 2010 was ac­tu­ally a set of three re­lated loan guar­an­tees, total­ing $8.3 bil­lion. Ac­cord­ing to an­oth­er source fa­mil­i­ar with the pro­ject, Mon­iz will an­nounce Wed­nes­day that two of the three loan guar­an­tees are go­ing to close on Thursday, total­ing $6.5 bil­lion. The last con­di­tion­al loan guar­an­tee, worth about $1.8 bil­lion, is still pending.

The En­ergy De­part­ment did not provide a com­ment on the re­cord.

Nuc­le­ar power ac­counts for about 20 per­cent of the na­tion’s elec­tri­city and re­leases no car­bon emis­sions, but the in­dustry has faced a host of reg­u­lat­ory, policy, polit­ic­al, and eco­nom­ic chal­lenges over the past few dec­ades.

The Three Mile Is­land in­cid­ent in 1979 largely slowed the once-prom­ised nuc­le­ar renais­sance in the coun­try, and in 2011 the Fukushi­ma Daii­chi nuc­le­ar dis­aster in Ja­pan set back the in­dustry glob­ally. Polit­ic­ally, some en­vir­on­ment­al groups and law­makers — mainly Demo­crats — don’t think nuc­le­ar power should be part of a clean-en­ergy mix giv­en the as­so­ci­ated risks and be­cause Wash­ing­ton is no closer to an­swer­ing the linger­ing ques­tion of where to store the nuc­le­ar waste.

Per­haps more than any of these con­cerns, however, cheap nat­ur­al gas has made it much more eco­nom­ic­ally dif­fi­cult for nuc­le­ar power, with its high up-front cap­it­al costs, to com­pete in the elec­tri­city mar­ket.

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story in­cor­rectly stated the amount of the loan guar­an­tee to be an­nounced Wed­nes­day. It is $6.5 bil­lion.

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