For the first time in more than 30 years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved a construction proposal for a new nuclear power plant. The NRC on Feb. 9 approved Southern Company’s application to build two new plants at its existing Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Georgia.
The Commission voted 4-1 in favor of granting the license, with the sole nay vote coming from NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.
“The vote to approve construction and operating licenses was a good but overdue move by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research.
“The two major obstacles to nuclear energy are (1) the upfront costs and (2) the regulatory environment which increases those costs tremendously,” said Simmons. “Much of the second obstacle is completely unnecessary.”
U.S. critics of nuclear energy often point to the shutdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year as a reason why nuclear energy should not be pursued in this country.
However, Simmons says nuclear power critics miss the point that not a single person died from the nuclear power plant shutdown, whereas more than 10,000 people died from the earthquake and tsunami that shut down the power plant.
“The disaster at Fukushima Daiichi shows the value of newer, safer reactors like the AP1000,” said Simmons.
NRC Chairman Jaczko, however, cited the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami as a primary reason for casting his nay vote.
“I simply cannot authorize issuance of these licenses without any binding obligation that these plants will have implemented the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before they operate,” Jaczko explained in his dissent to the NRC approval of the proposed Southern Co. reactors.
NRC Says Proposed Plants Safe
NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told Environment & Climate News the commissioners concluded the application for construction and operation of the new plants met the safety requirements for a license.
“The Commission spent four years and tens of thousands of hours reviewing both the safety and the environmental aspects of Southern’s proposal.… With regards to other aspects of the situation, the NRC’s only concern is whether or not these applications meet the applicable requirements to make sure the proposed plants can be built and operated safely,” said Burnell.
“When it comes to questions of energy policy, what sort of energy the country should be using, those are questions that are in the purview of the Energy Department,” Burnell explained. “Again, from the NRC’s perspective it’s a merely technical and legal decision as to whether or not it’s appropriate to issue a license.”
The proposed nuclear power plants are expected to create thousands of new jobs in the Peach State. Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers said in a press statement that construction of the nuclear power plants will create 4,000 to 5,000 jobs on the Vogtle site during the peak of construction. Overall, the nuclear power plants will create 25,000 direct and indirect jobs, said Bowers.
Southern Co. says it expects the project to cost about $14 billion and the two nuclear reactors to begin operation in 2016 and 2017.
Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.