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Excerpt: "The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s plan for the first licenses to build reactors in more than 30 years, with the chairman dissenting because he said there hasn't been a commitment to implement safety upgrades after Japan's 2011 disaster. ... 'I cannot support these licenses as if Fukushima never happened,' Chairman Gregory Jaczko said."

Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said he couldn't support the licenses to build reactors without a binding agreement that Atlanta-based Southern and its partners would operate the new reactors with safety enhancements meant to prevent the partial meltdowns that occurred at Fukushima. (photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said he couldn't support the licenses to build reactors without a binding agreement that Atlanta-based Southern and its partners would operate the new reactors with safety enhancements meant to prevent the partial meltdowns that occurred at Fukushima. (photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)



New US Nuclear Plants Approved

By Julie Johnsson and Brian Wingfield, Bloomberg News

10 February 12

 

he U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s (SO) plan for the first licenses to build reactors in more than 30 years, with the chairman dissenting because he said there hasn't been a commitment to implement safety upgrades after Japan's 2011 disaster.

The split vote mars the start of a new atomic era as Southern builds the first U.S. nuclear reactor from a standardized design that promises to speed construction and reduce risks of runaway costs that plagued nuclear development during the 1970s and 1980s.

"I cannot support these licenses as if Fukushima never happened," Chairman Gregory Jaczko said after the 4-1 vote today at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.

Jaczko said he couldn't support the licenses without a binding agreement that Atlanta-based Southern and its partners would operate the new reactors with safety enhancements meant to prevent the partial meltdowns that occurred at Fukushima.

Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman, says the agency plans to issue the license tomorrow. Southern can begin work immediately on the nuclear portion of the project.

'Monumental Accomplishment'

"This is a monumental accomplishment," Thomas Fanning, Southern's chairman and chief executive officer, said today in an e-mailed statement. "This project is on track and our targets related to cost and schedule are achievable."

Southern fell 5 cents to $44.56 at 1:22 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. The shares had increased 19 percent in the 12 months ended yesterday.

"It's a big day for the industry and for the country," Bill Johnson, chairman and chief executive officer of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Progress Energy Inc. (PGN), said today in an interview in New York.

"We've been talking about a nuclear renaissance for years now and this is the first tangible sign that we are going to proceed in a meaningful way," said Johnson, who is also chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade organization.

Potential legal challenges to Southern's license pose a near-term risk for Vogtle, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, Georgia. In the longer term, delaying a nuclear renaissance for a decade may put the U.S. even further behind France, China and Korea.

'Abdicated Its Duty'

"The NRC abdicated its duty to protect public health and safety just to make construction faster and cheaper for the nuclear industry," said Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts and the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

"Rather than ushering in the so-called nuclear renaissance, today's vote demonstrates that the NRC is still stuck in the nuclear safety Dark Ages," Markey said in an e- mail.

While the NRC has received applications for 28 new reactors since 2007, Southern's units are among five on track to be built this decade. The NRC in coming weeks may vote on Scana Corp. (SCG)'s application to build two reactors at an existing plant near Columbia, South Carolina. The Tennessee Valley Authority (3015A) plans to complete by 2014 a reactor it stopped building in 1988.

The NRC's previous construction permit was issued in 1978 for the Shearon Harris plant, operated by Progress Energy, southwest of Raleigh. A 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, stalled the development of U.S. nuclear power, which accounts for about 20 percent of the country's electricity.

Natural Gas Prices

Low natural gas prices, which dictate wholesale power costs, have discouraged power companies from investing in nuclear energy and other forms of generation, according to David Crane, chief executive of NRG Energy Inc. (NRG) of Princeton, New Jersey, which is part of a group that has applied for a license to build two reactors in Texas.

"Before you start actually building a $12-$13 billion nuclear plant, you need to know what you're going to do with the power," Crane said yesterday at a Washington conference. "It would be very hard to sell it in this commodity-price environment."

Natural gas futures fell 2.4 cents to $2.448 per million British thermal units yesterday in trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices have fallen from a five-year high of $13.577, reached in July 2008, as drilling techniques have advanced.

Plans Canceled

Ameren Corp. (AEE) of St. Louis, Entergy Corp. (ETR) of New Orleans and Exelon Corp. (EXC) have canceled plans to build reactors since 2009. Other applications remain in various stages of review at the NRC.

Southern, which applied for the Vogtle reactors in March 2008, has said the first unit will begin commercial service in 2016 and the second will be operational a year later, with a total project cost of $14 billion. Scana plans for its reactors to be in service in 2016 and 2019, and the company is covering 55 percent of the $10.2 billion estimated cost.

NRC action on Southern's application is "good news" because nuclear power should be a part of the U.S. energy mix and reactors are scheduled to retire in the coming decades, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters yesterday in Washington.

The agency in 1989 streamlined the process to build reactors, allowing construction and operating permits to be combined in a single license, and Southern is on track to hold the first consolidated license.

AP1000 Design

The NRC on Dec. 22 certified a reactor designed by Toshiba Corp. (6502)'s Westinghouse Electric unit, which Southern and Scana plan to build. Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), Progress Energy and NextEra (NEE) Entergy Inc. of Juno Beach, Florida, also are considering the design, known as the AP1000, for proposed nuclear plants, according to the NRC's website.

The Energy Department in 2010 awarded Southern and its partners, Oglethorpe Power Corp. of Tucker, Georgia, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, conditional approval for an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the Vogtle project.

"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.

The NRC must adequately consider how lessons from Japan's nuclear disaster last year may affect new structures at the Vogtle plant, the alliance and eight other consumer and environmental groups said in a statement yesterday. The groups plan to file a lawsuit at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to challenge the license as early as next week.

 

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+10 # Kasandra 2012-02-10 08:33
The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is still happening, and as I understand, still spilling into our oceans. No one ever talks about that, nor what to do about it as this lethal stuff impales our oceans and air. What kind of species is on this earth now!? The way these guys voted to build "new" nuclear plants is another grossly irresponsible act. It's all about money and power, while the people suffer!~.
 
 
+8 # AndreM5 2012-02-10 09:33
Hey, they only expect to receive tens of billions of $$$ in loan guarantees from the govt. Afterall, you have to socialize the risk to ensure a private profit.
 
 
+8 # tedrey 2012-02-10 10:28
If the licence provided clearly that they themselves would be legally and financially responsible for any adverse results, CEO Fanning would immediately withdraw his request, and spokesman Burnell his approval. In case of possible disaster they want zero risk to themselves.
 
 
+4 # wsh 2012-02-10 10:57
....And the spent nuclear fuel rods???? Over a half century of this industry, and this is still being ignored. Tens of thousands of years of deadly radiation, yet the best we can come up with is hiding them in Yucca Mountain -- oh wait, we don't even have THAT! Not that Yucca is really a solution at all.

Why do we have to be SO far behind the Germans on this?
 
 
+6 # SOF 2012-02-10 11:09
This is the problem. Corporate media, especially in GA, will not report the $costs to the locals, or the subsidies to the country, or most troubling, the dangers. Instead, they hide the ongoing problems in Japan. The true $costs will be hidden. I don't believe the limit on disaster liability has changed; the government pays anything over that limit -that is us. There is still no place to store waste. We are still paying millions every year for the slow decades-long cleanup of the Hanford military fiasco and it still leaks into the Columbia R. People are not informed. We need to figure out how to counter the corp media. It's even harder now than it's been. The plants will be talked about as job producers. And the people most at risk will be celebrating. Our country has become truly evil.
 
 
+5 # Tippitc 2012-02-10 12:06
government/big business are incapable of thinking beyond the end of their noses and their wallets. Besides being terribly short-sighted, they are arrogant!! When you have all the answers, you do not look to other countries for ideas or possible improvements. And the best part of all - you terf all the risk to the taxpayer!! What more could they ask for?!
 
 
+4 # cokacoa2 2012-02-10 12:59
Our country is still unable to clean up the mess made by the Manhattan Project (WWII!). We haven't figured out what to do about 200 square miles of contaminated ground water under Hanson, WA and tons of nuclear waste stored there. The Columbia River system is at risk from this very old mess. How does creating more waste we don't know what to do about make any sense???
 
 
+4 # reiverpacific 2012-02-10 16:55
Quoting cokacoa2:
Our country is still unable to clean up the mess made by the Manhattan Project (WWII!). We haven't figured out what to do about 200 square miles of contaminated ground water under Hanson, WA and tons of nuclear waste stored there. The Columbia River system is at risk from this very old mess. How does creating more waste we don't know what to do about make any sense???

It doesn't of course any more than "clean coal" and wars for oil but the plutocrats must have their hands in any honey-pot that's goin'.
Obama kept this particular promise -he actually ran on new "safe" nu-kee-ler (sorry -that was his predecessor yappin'). Westinghouse is still probably as corrupt and slipshod in their construction shortcutting as always so don't hold yer breaths on the "Safe"!
 

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