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Nuclear Reactors

February 10, 2012 by staff 

Nuclear Reactors, Southern Company Chairman, President and C.E.O. Thomas Fanning announces that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 to approve the Atlanta-based company’s request to build two nuclear reactors at its Vogtle site south of Augusta, during a news conference in Atlanta Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. 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.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to grant a license to build two reactors at a nuclear plant in Georgia – a milestone for an industry whose long-hoped-for renaissance has been smaller and later than anticipated.

It was the first time the commission decided to grant a license for a new reactor since 1978, a year before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. In anticipation of approval, the plant’s owner, the Southern Co., has already dug a foundation and begun laying water pipes at its Alvin Vogtle plant near Augusta, Ga.

The sole vote against approval was cast by the commission’s chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko. He said the construction and operating license would not assure that all of the safety improvements mandated by the agency in response to Japan’s Fukushima disaster would be accomplished before the reactors begin operating in 2016 and 2017.

The plant, which already has two reactors dating from the 1980s, will be the largest nuclear complex in the United States.

Southern and its partners are swimming against the tide, betting that even with the project’s approximately $14 billion price tag, nuclear power will prove cheaper than using coal, natural gas or any other source over the estimated 60-year lifetime of the reactors.

Few other companies are willing to take the gamble, given the current economic and political picture.

Natural gas prices are at low levels, and pressures to address global warming by putting a price on carbon emissions have faded, diminishing hopes that nuclear energy will be championed as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

The reactors were supposed to be the first in a wave of new projects after the Bush administration set aside $17.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear projects. But the nuclear rebirth has been so puny that much of that money is still available.

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