New Nuclear Plants Have Turned Into Money Pits

The 13-metre, 500-tonne, reactor pressure vessel arriving last month at Hinkley Point C. It was built at the notorious and scandal-ridden Le Creusot forge. The unfinished nuclear plant is shaping up to be the most expensive in history. (Photo: EDF)

Oops sorry. That two-reactor nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point C you thought would cost $19 billion? It’s going to cost $26 billion now. Actually, make that $35 billion. Wait, sorry, no, the actual number is closer to $40 billion. When will it be ready for operation? Um, well, currently says French contractor, EDF, maybe 2027? Ish?

And those two American Westinghouse reactors in Georgia at the Plant Vogtle 3 and 4 site? $14 billion tops! That prediction came back in the good old days, ten years ago. Today, with neither reactor completed, the cost is at least $34 billion. Just last month, Southern Company said it would be adding another $200 million to the price tag and pushed the start date of the Vogtle-3 unit, the closest to completion, back to “May or June” of this year. And Unit 4? The company says late 2023. Others predict 2024. Or you could just roll some dice or stare into a crystal ball. All options are equally reliable.

Let’s turn to Small Modular Reactors (SMR), which are supposed to solve everything. In 2008, the American company, NuScale, announced that its SMR would be delivering electricity by 2015-2016. It’s 2023 and there’s no reactor. But hey, says NuScale, we do have a design certification!  For a 50 MW reactor. But they’re actually planning to build a 77 MW model. And not 12 of them anymore as originally planned. Just six, at a cost of $5.32 billion.

That price tag, in terms of the cost per installed kilowatt, “is around 80 percent higher than the corresponding figure for the Vogtle twin AP1000 project in Georgia—and this is before the Vogtle costs exploded from US$14 billion to over US$30 billion once construction started,” explains M.V. Ramana in the 2022 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR).

But even those numbers have changed since the WNISR was published back in October 2022. Since then, the cost projections for a NuScale-SMR six-pack have further skyrocketed to $9.3 billion.

And then there’s the SMR project in India. In 2000, it was projected to be operational by 2011. Today, 12 years later, there are still no actual construction plans.

If you enjoy watching paint dry or grass grow, then watch this space. It’s going to be blank for a long time.

Meanwhile, as we wrote back in December 2022, EDF’s flagship EPR at the Flamanville-3, Normandy site, is 12 years behind schedule, and saw its 2007 starting budget of $3.7 billion balloon to $21.5 billion and climbing. Just as we were going to press, EDF announced that the fuel loading for Flamanville-3 had been delayed, again, until at least the first quarter of 2024, with cost estimates once again continuing to rise.

Olkiluoto 3, another French EPR that briefly flickered into life in Finland, began construction in 2005. The budget there has more than tripled to around $11 billion. Last September, surrounded by much fanfare, the reactor reached full power for the first time. The following month, damage to all four feed water pumps prompted it to be shut down. It could try again for full-scale commercial operation in early April 2023.

If your local car showroom offered you a deal like this — a car that never seemed to make it to the lot but whose price kept ballooning — you’d cancel the order. You might even buy a bicycle instead (better for the environment and your waistline.) But the one thing you would not do is stick with the dealer and pay three times as much or more for a car that took years to arrive in your driveway. None of us are that stupid.

But our governments are. In fact, they love these kinds of offers. French president, Emmanuel Macron, is flashing around the EPR-2 (and SMRs) as the next big thing as if the EPR-1 was a rip-roaring success. The UK government is determined to let EDF have another go at gouging ratepayers and its own treasury — with two more EPRs at the Sizewell-C site in Suffolk (where EDF is already being allowed to rip up habitat and precious countryside). The UK is equally SMR crazy.

Back in 2017, the UK Guardian newspaper asked of the Hinkley Point C project in a headline: “Building Britain’s first new nuclear reactor since 1995 will cost twice as much as the 2012 Olympics – and by the time it is finished, nuclear power could be a thing of the past. How could the government strike such a bad deal?”

In the meantime, EDF filed an eye-watering net loss of $19 billion for 2022 cumulating its net debt load to a staggering $68 billion. To put this number into perspective, it corresponds to the order of magnitude of all French government shareholdings in all companies with public ownership.

In the US, we’ve been subject to a public relations blitz for months on end, insisting that SMRs are the panacea to all our climate woes. If editors were doing their jobs, they’d spike these puff pieces instantly. Instead, they overlook the fact that the wild assertions in such “opinion” pieces don’t begin to pass the acid test. It’s all verbal alchemy.

New nuclear power plants aren’t gold mines. They are money pits.

This first appeared on Beyond Nuclear International.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the editor and curator of and the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear.