Same horror movie, same propaganda that led to the debacle Duke abandoned in 2017
By 2017, Duke Energy had squandered billions of dollars and 13 years failing to license and build experimental nuclear reactors they had insisted would avoid the massive construction failures of the 1970s. Now, Duke is seeking approval of a carbon plan with a different type of experimental reactor – with unfinished design and already-soaring costs – and proposes to build dozens of them in the Carolinas alone.
Duke Energy execs already dragged us through this horror movie and we cannot allow them to do it again. Experimental nukes are a reckless diversion from the shift to cheaper, clean energy solutions and reduced usage.
Duke’s promise to be “carbon neutral” in North Carolina by 2050 rests heavily on the twin pipe dreams of building more than 10 gigawatts of experimental nuclear generation and a similar, massive amount of natural gas-fired generation that Duke says might someday be converted to burn hydrogen, another highly speculative scheme with dubious value for the climate. This is from corporate execs stuck on a monopoly business model requiring constant capital projects to thrill investors – climate crisis and public pocketbooks be damned.
In all four potential scenarios in its draft carbon clan, Duke Energy includes construction of Small Modular nuclear Reactors (SMRs) despite the lack of commercial viability of any such product among numerous developer-manufacturers after years of effort, and with years of uncertainty ahead.
As NC WARN argues in a report filed in the carbon plan docket at the NC Utilities Commission, bringing SMRs into the marketplace remains highly uncertain and high-risk in terms of price tag, lack of regulatory or investor approval, radioactive waste, safety and security, and cheaper, better and far more just alternatives.
Each of those factors makes reliance on construction of SMRs to help slow climate change another losing nuclear gamble for North Carolinians – especially the most vulnerable who are already bearing the burden of repeated climate disasters and high power bills.
By 2005, Westinghouse and utilities such as Duke Energy were boasting that the “Advanced Passive 1000” reactor would avoid the huge cost overruns and mid-stream cancellations that plagued the first generation of US nuclear power. That promise – key to the much-hyped “nuclear renaissance” – was largely based on plans for off-site construction of various facility modules that could then be pieced together at each site.
The same promise of off-site, modular construction is central to promotion of SMRs.
NC WARN is grateful to be among the organizations, activists and technical experts who together challenged Westinghouse and utilities for cutting corners on the AP1000 reactor design and construction projects. The modular construction scheme failed miserably.
The AP1000 fiasco led to cancellation of all but one of the nearly thirty proposed reactors that had reached some stage of planning, licensing or construction, mostly in the Southeast. Duke Energy abandoned the last of its three failed projects in 2017, with impunity; state politicians and regulators arranged to let Duke charge ratepayers over $2 billion for its blunders in the Carolinas and Florida.
The sole AP1000 project still underway in the US is years behind schedule and billions over budget in Georgia.
Shamelessly, here come the utilities and their cronies again with the same bag of magic beans.
NuScale, considered the leading US developer of SMR technology, is years behind schedule, and cost estimates for its model continue to rise as they scramble to find a workable design. A February study by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that NuScale’s planned SMR project has been in development since 2001 and won’t be operational before 2029, if ever. IEEFA also shows that the cost of power from SMRs could be more than twice the cost of utility-scale solar and wind power generation.
Investors aren’t falling for it. Despite going public in May, NuScale still “needs substantial financing to stay afloat for the next several years,” well short of what is needed for the 2029 project opening.
Among the many problems with SMRs, a May Stanford University study found that, if ever built, SMRs will produce far more, not less, radioactive waste per unit of power generated than the typical US nuclear reactor. So, SMRs would only add to the intractable challenge faced throughout the nuclear power era: how to protect the public from spent fuel rods and other dangerous wastes for generations to come.
The massive hype by pro-nuclear zealots has already begun. This time, the politicians and news media must scrutinize the corporate propaganda instead of falling in line as most of them did in the 2000s and beyond.
Duke Energy will surely insist its ratepayers bear the risk again – can’t afford to risk those corporate dollars! That tells us all we need to know about Duke’s willingness to gamble our money and the economic wellbeing of climate-racked communities and our entire state on experimental nuclear power plants.