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More Nuclear on Lower Chattahoochee?

March 22, 2016

April Fools Day is still a little ways off, so it must be true that Georgia Power is considering a new nuclear reactor complex.  On the Chattahoochee River.  Read more in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

This sounds crazy for many reasons.

First, the so-called nuclear renaissance ended for the same reason the nuclear boom of the 1970s boomed: the economics just don’t pencil out.  And, Georgia Power and parent company Southern Company have begun to see the light and invest in solar in Georgia and across the country.

Second: Did I mention the money?  When we consider the current cost-over runs and delays for Plant Voglte’s two new reactors on the Savannah River, nuclear looks like an albatross for any utility.

Third, the contested waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF).  If Georgia Power goes ahead with this, perhaps Alabama will decide not to remain on the sidelines as they did with Florida’s recent legal action.

A while back Georgia Power floated word about additional nuclear facilities.  The Savannah River did not seem like a contender given the Vogtle expansion.  And, certainly not in the ACF.  An expansion at Plant Hatch on the Altamaha River—a river completely contained within the state of Georgia—was where I expected to hear future announcements for new nukes.  But I guess not.

Fourth—the Chattahoochee River is not immune to drought conditions.  It’s important to remember that the lower Chattahoochee River’s current nuclear complex was essentially hobbled by the drought of 2007.

Plant Farley is located in Alabama and operated by a Southern Company subsidiary.  The plant’s two nuclear units require a 2,000 cfs flow from the Chattahoochee River.

According to a May 2008 Congressional Research Report, in September 2007, one of the generators was taken offline for maintenance. In the depths of the region’s drought of record, flows past the Plant Farley dropped below 2,000 cfs in October.  By late November the river’s low flow bottomed out at 1,048 cfs.  While one unit can clearly operate at such extreme flows, a nuclear plant is a big investment to take off line when energy demand spikes on hot summer days.  Does the Southern Company really want four reactors on the same river if only two of them can operate at low flows?

Given the serious drought conditions in the past, one cannot withdraw water in the future that is not there.  There are cheaper energy alternatives that are less dependent upon contested waters.

Bottom line: More nuclear on the lower Chattahoochee just doesn’t make sense.

-Chris Manganiello

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