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Nuclear plant closures show industry's struggles

By Ray Henry

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 8 2013 12:39 p.m. MDT

Just a few years back, nuclear industry officials said the time was right for expanding. A more robust economy boosted demand for electricity, natural gas prices were higher, and it seemed Congress might pass legislation restricting the greenhouse gas emissions, a rule that could hurt fossil fuel plants and increase the demand for nuclear power. To further sweeten the pot, the U.S. government adopted tax credits and offered low-cost loans to subsidize construction.

The industry called it a "nuclear renaissance." It was short-lived.

The Great Recession trimmed the demand for electricity as business and consumers cut back, and natural gas prices fell. Several utilities have scrubbed their plans for new plants or delayed them far into the future.

Paul Patterson, a utility analyst for Glenrock Associates LLC, said the idea of a renaissance was "exaggerated to begin with," and low-cost natural gas ended such talk.

Only three nuclear construction projects have moved forward, and they are all under financial pressure.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is finishing a long-mothballed reactor at its Watts Bar plant. Initially budgeted at $2.5 billion, the utility has said finishing the project could cost up to $2 billion more.

Atlanta-based Southern Co. owns a 46 percent share of two new reactors being constructed at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia, a project originally estimated at $14 billion. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power recently asked regulators to raise its share of the construction budget by $737 million to roughly $6.85 billion.

It may cost more. Georgia Power and the companies designing and building the plant are in a legal fight that may cost the utility more money. Separately, an independent monitor hired by Georgia regulators has warned of additional potential costs.

SCANA Corp. announced this week that it expects its costs to rise by around $200 million and the construction schedule to slip while building two reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in South Carolina.

Henry reported from Atlanta and can be reached at http://twitter.com/rhenryAP . AP Energy Writer Jonathan Fahey also contributed to this report from New York.

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