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AP IMPACT: Building Costs Rise At US Nuclear Sites

RAY HENRY

ATLANTA (AP) â¿¿ America's first new nuclear plants in more than a decade are costing billions more to build and sometimes taking longer to deliver than planned, problems that could chill the industry's hopes for a jumpstart to the nation's new nuclear age.

Licensing delay charges, soaring construction expenses and installation glitches as mundane as misshapen metal bars have driven up the costs of three plants in Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, from hundreds of millions to as much as $2 billion, according to an Associated Press analysis of public records and regulatory filings.

Those problems, along with jangled nerves from last year's meltdown in Japan and the lure of cheap natural gas, could discourage utilities from sinking cash into new reactors, experts said. The building slowdown would be another blow to the so-called nuclear renaissance, a drive over the past decade to build 30 new reactors to meet the country's growing power needs. Industry watchers now say that only a handful will be built this decade.

"People are looking at these things very carefully," said Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Inexpensive gas alone, he said, "is casting a pretty long shadow over the prospects" for construction of new nuclear plants.

The AP's review of pending projects found:

â¿¿ Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia, initially estimated to cost $14 billion, has run into over $800 million in extra charges related to licensing delays. A state monitor has said bluntly that co-owner Southern Co. can't stick to its budget. The plant, whose first reactor was supposed to be operational by April 2016, is now delayed seven months.

â¿¿ The long-mothballed Watts Bar power plant in eastern Tennessee, initially budgeted at $2.5 billion, will cost up to $2 billion more , the Tennessee Valley Authority concluded this spring. The utility said its initial budget underestimated how much work was needed to finish the plant and wasted money by not completing more design work before starting construction. The project had been targeted to finish in 2012, but has been postponed until 2015.

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