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Savings in Georgia; AP Investigates, Finds Nothing

i_survived_the_virginia_earthquakeGeorgia Power is applying some price pressure on its Plant Vogtle project (where Peter Pepper picked a peck of peppers, apparently), as its ability to charge ratepayers a little bit more now saves a lot later.

Georgia Power has cut $18 million from its planned nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle, informing state utility regulators Wednesday that their cost for the project is now $6.09 billion.

Now, you may say that now or later, it’s the same amount, but not so.

The cost of Georgia Power’s portion of the project originally was approved for $6.4 billion but reduced to $6.09 billion after the utility was allowed to collect financing costs from customers. The $18 million in reductions stem from financing costs that were lowered “primarily as a result of changing in the timing of cash expenditures,” the report said.

Which means that the interest costs are declining because Georgia Power can pay as it goes on at least some of the activities associated with the two new reactors. A good deal for the ratepayers overall.

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I understand that the Associated Press started its series on nuclear facilities with the best of intentions: after all, journalists are watchdogs and if the nuclear industry is to be taken to task, so be it. But the industry just hasn’t played along by dishing up the scandalous behavior such a story needs.

Let’s see what’s what:

The risk that an earthquake would cause a severe accident at a U.S. nuclear plant is greater than previously thought, 24 times as high in one case, according to an analysis of preliminary government data by The Associated Press.

That sounds bad, but consider that a number of plants just got shook around last week (and San Onofre in a recent California trembler) none the worse for wear. What the AP means here is a much bigger earthquake than what has occurred lately. But here’s the conclusion:

The average risk to U.S. reactors of core damage from a quake remains low, at one accident every 500 years, according to the AP analysis of NRC data.

Well, that’s taking the long way around. But maybe the NRC and industry aren’t doing anything to enhance earthquake safety.

Just how many nuclear power plants are more vulnerable won't be determined until all operators recalculate their seismic risk, based on geologists' new assessments -- which the agency plans to request later this year. The NRC on Thursday issued a draft of that request for public comment.

The review, launched well before the East Coast quake and the Japan nuclear disaster in March, marks the first complete update to seismic risk in years for the nation's 104 existing reactors, despite research showing greater hazards.

Well, that sounds responsible. Reports have emerged suggesting larger risks, so the NRC is reviewing what this might mean for the nuclear facilities.

Richard Zuercher, spokesman for Dominion, the plant operator [meaning North Anna, which was near the epicenter of the Virginia earthquake], says the earlier estimate "remains sound because additional safety margin was built into the design when the station was built." The safety cushion would shrink, though, if the plant's risk is found to be greater.

Yes, and the safety margin would grow if the plant’s risk is found to be lesser.

This isn’t a case of the AP not providing information that is exculpatory. It’s that the industry and NRC are transparent enough that AP can’t make a viably shocking expose. As shown in the AP’s own story, the industry and NRC are responsive and clearly working with the seismic data – maybe not on the same timetable as the US Geologic Survey (one of AP’s “bombshells”) but none-the-less.

Sometimes less is more, but sometimes it really is just less. I was keenly interested in these AP articles – not that I expected to be shaken up but because I thought I ‘d spend more time disputing them - but they’ve turned out to be kind of a bust. No hanky-panky between regulators and regulated, no fuel rods found piled in a closet, no one sneaking uranium around in a suitcase – just companies and a regulator working through issues. But read it and judge for yourself. Don’t expect to gasp much, though.

NEI has an interesting face sheet on seismic safety issues here.

“I survived the Virginia earthquake,” it says. As did everyone else.

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