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Georgia Power suspends study for new nuclear power plant near Columbus

Georgia Power is shelving its study of a site near Columbus for a new nuclear plant, saying it won’t be needed as soon as previously expected.

In a letter Wednesday, the utility notified the Georgia Public Service Commission “of its intention to suspend work on the investigation of pursuing a new nuclear generation option.”

The company said its most recent forecasts showed that suspending the study, which by itself was expected to cost $99 million, “is unlikely to delay the ability to deploy new nuclear when needed by customers.”

While Georgia Power cited demand forecasts, the decision also comes as the utility and parent Southern Co. face more uncertainty around an existing nuclear expansion project at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, where two new reactors are under construction.

Toshiba Corp. is looking into a possible bankruptcy filing by its U.S. nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse, according to news reports from Japan. Westinghouse has suffered heavy losses from contracts to build two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle and similar reactors at another plant in South Carolina.

Last month, Toshiba also said it will not build any more nuclear plants, after disclosing a $6.3 billion loss at the Westinghouse unit.

Toshiba’s woes raise questions about the potential effect of a Westinghouse bankruptcy on the Vogtle project and also could cloud Georgia Power’s consideration of another nuclear plant in Stewart County, south of Columbus.

The utility had argued it needed to start the site study to capitalize on its experience with the Vogtle project, which uses Westinghouse’s new reactor designs. In July, the PSC approved funding for the study.

The Vogtle project is already more than $3 billion over budget and over three years behind schedule. Georgia Power owns almost half of the project, and is the lead partner.

Reports in Japan hint that losses on the Vogtle and South Carolina projects have shaken Toshiba, a conglomerate best known for TVs and laptops, to its foundations. The company’s chairman recently stepped down, and it is considering selling its profitable chip business to raise cash.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reported that the Tokyo company has asked a Japanese law firm to help estimate the financial impact of a Chapter 11 filing by its U.S. nuclear construction arm. Last week, the Japanese business newspaper Nikkei, citing an unnamed company official, said a Westinghouse bankruptcy filing is an option it is considering.

A Westinghouse spokeswoman said last week in an emailed statement: “We are not considering bankruptcy at this time.”

A lengthy court-supervised reorganization of Westinghouse could further complicate the Vogtle project and threaten the latest target date for completion, the end of 2020.

A bankruptcy filing could also allow Westinghouse to renegotiate its contracts with Georgia Power.

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