UPDATE: (4:45 PM EST) As expected, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted this afternoon to extend licenses to build two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, the first such licenses granted in over thirty years. A statement from the NRC said:
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded its mandatory hearing on Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s (SNC) application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Vogtle site in 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 COLs.
The Associated Press reports:
Allison Fisher, an energy expert for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, called the NRC's action — less than a year after the Japan crisis — a step in the wrong direction.
'It is inexplicable that we've chosen this moment in history to expand the use of a failed and dangerous technology,' she said.
While other countries such as Germany are reversing their commitment to nuclear power, "the U.S. is approving new reactors before the full suite of lessons from Japan has been learned and before new safety regulations that were recommended by a task force established after the meltdown crisis at Fukushima have been implemented," Fisher said.
And Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear said this in response to the decision:
An NRC license does not guarantee ultimate project success. Atomic reactors have been NRC licensed and then nearly, or even entirely, constructed, and still blocked from operating.
Two reactors at Midland, Michigan were almost completely constructed when watchdogs proved they were sinking into the ground like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They were then cancelled, at a loss of billions of dollars.
Nuclear power plants in Marble Hill and Bailey, Indiana that were under construction were cancelled when the Citizens Action Coalition proved in court that the nuclear utilities’ ‘Construction Work in Progress’ charges on electricity bills had been illegal, forcing the return of hundreds of millions of dollars to ratepayers.
A nuclear power plant at Shoreham, New York, was entirely constructed, but then prevented from operating because of the impossibility of mass evacuation during an accident. Again, billions of dollars were wasted.
If Vogtle 3 and 4 default on their loan repayments, it'll be 15 times worse than the Solyndra debacle. U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook for $8.3 billion due to the federal nuclear loan guarantees that President Obama awarded to the nuclear utilities proposing Vogtle 3 and 4. The nuclear utilities have no skin in the game, representing a tremendous moral hazard.
And if eventually fired up, radiological risks for residents downwind and downstream of Vogtle nuclear power plant will be added to the financial risks for American taxpayers. As shown at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, an accident at the Vogtle site could render all four atomic reactors unusable, not to mention the off-site radioactive catastrophe.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to approve licenses for the Atlanta-based Southern Co. to build and operate two nuclear reactors in Georgia, the first issued since the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. Anti-nuclear organizations, however, do not intend to allow the new plants to proceed without a fight.
The Associated Press reports this morning:
The first U.S. nuclear power plant in a generation is expected to win approval Thursday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to approve Southern Co.'s request to build two nuclear reactors in the southern state of Georgia.
If approved, the $14 billion reactors could begin operating as soon as 2016 and 2017.
The NRC last approved construction of a nuclear plant in 1978, a year before a partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania raised fears of a radiation release and brought new reactor orders nearly to a halt.
The NRC approved a new reactor design for the Georgia plant in December. Utility companies in Florida and the Carolinas also plan new reactors that use the same design by Westinghouse Electric Co.
The planned reactors are remnants of a once-anticipated building boom that the power industry dubbed the "nuclear renaissance."
But, according to the Environmental News Service, "nine national, state and regional groups are asking the agency to delay its decision until the groups can file a challenge in federal court."
Within days, the groups say 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 in Japan touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11, 2011 that shut down power to the plant's cooling system. In the following week, three hydrogen gas explosions led to meltdowns of nuclear fuel and widespread release of radiation to air, land and sea in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
They will ask the court to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement for the two reactors proposed at the Vogtle site that explains how cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel storage pools will be upgraded to protect against earthquakes, flooding and prolonged loss of electric power to the site.
The groups are asking that the environmental impact statement detail how emergency equipment and plans for the nuclear plant will be revised to account for accidents affecting multiple reactors on the Vogtle site, as happened at Fukushima Daiichi.
The organizations are preparing to file their lawsuit next week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They will ask the NRC on Thursday to give the nine organizations time to review the licensing decision.
The nine groups challenging the NRC are the 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 groups, in addition to challenging the environmental and safety concerns, are also raising questions about the tax-payer subsidies and rate increases that will follow construction of the new reactors. Bloomberg reports:
“The federal government is putting the American taxpayer on the hook for billions of dollars to build nuclear reactors that corporations would never risk building themselves,” Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace USA, an anti- nuclear group, said in an e-mail.
Southern has begun preliminary construction on the Vogtle project, which has cost more than $2 billion so far. Since January 2011, the company has charged customers a fee on their utility bills to help recover its costs, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy of Knoxville, Tennessee.