Protesters picket utility’s Midtown film premiere, blast construction of new nuclear reactors

Atlanta-based utility disputes protesters’ claims construction of two new reactors is overbudget, behind schedule


  • Joeff Davis
  • BETTER THAN NUTCRACKER Protesters stage protest outside Fox Theatre to raise awareness about construction of two new nuclear reactors near Georgia and South Carolina border

On the same day that tens of thousands of protesters rallied in Tokyo against the restart of Japan’s nuclear reactors, roughly 30 protesters chanted, marched, and handed out flyers today in Midtown to protest against Georgia Power’s construction of two new nuclear reactors in eastern Georgia. The two units, which are located about 175 miles from downtown Atlanta, are the first to be built in the United States in nearly three decades.

“Georgia Power is using our money to pay for something we don’t need, we don’t want and is killing us,” said Margie Resse as she handed out flyers outside the Fox Theatre. Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent company, had reserved the historic Midtown venue to screen a documentary that it commissioned about the utility’s 100-year history for shareholders and executives.

The flyers claimed that Southern Company used “its notorious lobbying machine to push a $2 billion rate hike” onto Georgia ratepayers to build “two risky nuclear reactors on the Savannah River,” which the groups say are months behind schedule and $900 million overbudget. The flyer urges ratepayers to refuse to pay a fee tacked on to utility bills that helps pay for the reactors’ construction.

Southern Company Spokesman Steve Higginbottom, standing just inside the Fox Theatre’s entrance and speaking barely above the protesters’ chants, said that Southern Company supports the rights of protesters but disputes their claims.

The “$900 million” figure cited by protesters, he said, has been alleged by Westinghouse, the manufacturer of the reactor, and Shaw, the project’s general contractor.

“That $900 million is alleged to Georgia Power and its co-owners. Four hundred million dollars of that is what they attribute to Georgia Power,” Higginbottom said. “We do not believe that that amount is the responsibility of Georgia Power.”

He adds that there are currently “no cost overruns” and that the company “believes that all targets are achievable.” According to Higginbottom, the first reactor would come online in 2016, with the second switching on the following year. He says the units are among the “safest” in the world — “even safer than what we operate now.”

But an independent monitor hired by the Public Service Commission, a quasi-judicial state agency that decides how much Georgians pay to turn on their lights and heat up their ovens, seems to think that the project could face financial and scheduling issues. The monitor, quoted in an AJC article published last week, warned that costs could go overbudget and the project could face delays of “as much as seven months or more.”