NRC approves Georgia nuclear reactors

Friday, February 10, 2012

Federal regulators have approved the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the addition of two Toshiba/Westinghouse AP1000to Southern Co.'s existing Vogtle nuclear power plant, despite a dissenting vote by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko.  (Here is the NRC order.)  This represents the first NRC approval for construction of a new reactor since 1978.

31 states are already home to commercial nuclear reactors.  The U.S. power industry's nuclear fleet includes 104 reactors at 65 power plants.  (EIA provides a nice map with generalized locations of nuclear power plants.Most are located near water sources, in the eastern half of the country.  Illinois alone is home to 11 reactors.

Over the last two decades, nuclear energy has provided about 20% of our electricity supply.  For example, in 2010, U.S. nuclear plants generated 807 billion kilowatt-hours out of nearly 3,884 billion kWh total supply.  This amounts to about 8% of the total energy consumed in the U.S. from all sources.

The Vogtle project's projected cost is $14 billion, with a targeted operational date as early as 2016.  The reactors approved for Georgia each have a nameplate capacity of 1,154 megawatts, making them significant sources of power.  The reactors chosen for the project are designed to have simple fail-safe mechanisms to protect against the kind of catastrophe that occurred at Fukushima.  

The NRC approved the project by a 4-1 vote.  Chairman Jaczko cast the dissenting vote, noting in his written dissent, "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."

By majority vote, the NRC authorized its Director of the Office of New Reactors to issue the work authorizations and licenses needed to allow the construction and operation of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.

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