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The Federal Government Must Save Nuclear

May 14, 2017 (EIRNS)—The March 29 bankruptcy of Westinghouse has thrown the completion of the only nuclear power plants under construction in the U.S.—two reactors each in Georgia and South Carolina—into uncertainty. An appeal has been made by the utilities building the plants and the state Public Service Commissions that regulate them, for the Energy Secretary and the President to intervene so the plants can be completed.

The utilities, regulators, and Japan’s Toshiba which owns Westinghouse, are sorting out who will have to pay what, but even if Toshiba pays the damages it is supposed to for pulling out of the projects, that will not be sufficient to complete the plants. The two groups of utilities in Georgia and in South Carolina are faced with the choice of each completing only one plant, completing both, or canceling both. An interim agreement which expired on May 12 was extended late that evening, to run to June 5, to evaluate all options for the Georgia plants. Construction at both sites is continuing in the interim. Georgia Power has agreed to take over management of Plant Vogtle indefinitely from Westinghouse, but the decision of what to do and how to secure the necessary financing is to be determined.

Since 2009, when Georgia Power decided to build the plants, it has been backed by the federal Department of Energy, through a $8.3 billion loan guarantee. The terms of that loan guarantee must be extended, as also the federal tax credits that have benefitted the projects.

On April 26, Georgia Public Service Commission member Tim Echols personally handed Energy Secretary Rick Perry a letter outlining the situation. Beyond the economic considerations for the need to finish the four plants, the case has also been made that preserving nuclear technology in the U.S. has national security implications.

On May 10, Energy Secretary Perry, in a speech at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, recognized that scientists at Los Alamos, where much of the work is on weapons, are also making discoveries that will benefit the nuclear power industry, AP reported.

"If you really care about this environment that we live in ... then you need to be a supporter of this amazingly clean, resilient, safe, reliable source of energy,"

Perry said during a press conference at Los Alamos.

Time is short. Action must be taken quickly that will bring these projects to completion, and preserve the highly-skilled manpower and talent they employ, while a national policy to resurrect the U.S. nuclear industry on a platform of next-generation technology is implemented.