NRC Approves First Nuclear Power Plant License Since 1978

WASHINGTON, DC, February 10, 2012 (ENS) – A license for the first new nuclear power facility in the United States in more than 30 years has been approved. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission Thursday gave the green light to Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s license application for a two-reactor expansion at the Vogtle power plant in Georgia.

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is now approved to build and operate two Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site 26 miles southeast of Augusta, Georgia.

In a 4-1 vote, the Commission found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the combined construction and operating license.

At Southern Company’s Vogtle site, foundations for two new reactors have bee dug and other preparations made. (Photo courtesy Southern Company)

The single dissenting vote came from Chairman Gregoy Jaczko. In public statements, he has warned about the potential dangers of constructing new nuclear power facilities in view of the meltdown of the nuclear fuel in three reactors at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi facility last March.

“I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened,” Jaczko told Reuters news agency. “I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.”

The NRC staff is expected to issue the combined license within 10 business days.

The NRC certified Westinghouse’s amended AP1000 design on December 30, 2011. The AP1000 is a 1,100 megawatt electric pressurized-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention, according to the nuclear agency.

The commission imposed a condition on the combined license requiring inspection and testing of squib valves, important components of the new reactors’ passive cooling system.

Paul Bowers, president of Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power, called the license approval “a landmark achievement” and said it could spur a nuclear renaissance.

“This is a historic day, exulted Marvin Fertel, president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association.

“Today’s licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security,” said Fertel.

“The United States is building new nuclear energy facilities under an improved licensing process that exhaustively addresses safety considerations,” Fertel said. “It also assures that the lessons learned from the industry’s licensing and construction experience are properly applied to future projects. Ultimately, this also will benefit consumers who depend on reliable, affordable electricity from those facilities.”

Southern Company has already spent some $4 billion on the project, digging foundations for the reactor buildings and laying pipes in anticipation of the licenses.

Nine environmental and public health groups said earlier this week that they will file legal action alleging that the NRC is violating federal law by issuing the license without considering the lessons of the catastrophic Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The groups contend the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should require modification of the Vogtle operation and plans for the new reactors to protect public safety and the environment.

The nine organizations taking part in the legal action are: Friends of the Earth, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Nuclear Watch South.

The organizations will file their lawsuit next week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.