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Southern US nuclear project continues, but cost controls sought

This June 13, 2014 file photo shows construction on a new nuclear reactor at Plant Vogtle power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) -- The nation's only major nuclear power plant under construction appears to still be alive after the owners voted to push forward despite another multibillion-dollar cost overrun.

But one co-owner, Oglethorpe Power, on Monday said they're only willing to move forward with the construction of the two new reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Waynesboro, Georgia if cost controls are implemented.

It is unclear how the other utilities that own a stake will respond to the conditions.

The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Georgia Southern had previously said they're willing to push forward.

The project is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.

A down vote by Oglethorpe Power could have sunk the project, which now has a total estimated cost of $27 billion.

Southern Company, the parent company of Georgia Power, in August learned that another $2.3 billion dollar cost overage was expected on the project. That triggered a clause in the ownership agreement where 90 percent of ownership -- all three utilities -- needed to agree to move forward.

The critical up vote came just days after the federal government warned the utilities that any move to cancel the planned expansion would lead to demands for quick repayment of nearly $6 billion in federal loans.

In a letter to the three owners, the Department of Energy said late Friday that if the construction project is canceled, the government is "prepared to move swiftly to fully enforce its rights under terms of the loan guarantee agreements, including the repayment provisions."

The letter calls the project "a linchpin in the all-of-the-above energy strategy required to sustain our nation's economic strength and energy independence."

But several state lawmakers sounded the alarm last week about cost overruns at the site, saying they wanted a "cost cap" established to protect Georgians from getting gouged on their electricity bills.

Plant Vogtle became the nation's last remaining commercial nuclear plant under construction after the plug was pulled on a similar project in South Carolina in July 2017. The V.C. Summer plant was abandoned after going billions of dollars over budget.

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