Organizations trying to slow down construction of the new Plant Vogtle reactors in Georgia did not get the news they had hoped for from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on April 16 when the commission denied their stay request.
Nine groups have asked the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Vogtle units that would explain how new cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel pools would meet new regulatory requirements after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The groups also said the safety requirements may also change the cost of the Vogtle reactors.
The nine groups - the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy - in February asked the NRC to delay construction of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors until the court decided their case.
"As evidenced by today's NRC decision, regulators unfortunately continue to ignore the real ramifications that this risky, expensive nuclear project could have on utility customers and local communities," said Sara Barczak, High Risk Energy Choices program director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. "There are serious safety and economic concerns that will eventually come to a front. Before billions more dollars are spent, post-Fukushima issues should be dealt with in order to best protect surrounding communities and ratepayers' pocketbooks."
In the public documents made available by the NRC, regulators said they authorized the issuance of two combined licenses (COLs) entitling Southern Nuclear Operating Co. to construct and operate two new nuclear power reactors at its Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.
The NRC also said the petitioners, the nine groups, argue that prior to approving the Vogtle COLs, the NRC staff should have prepared a “supplemental environmental impact statement ” addressing the environmental implications of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident and considering the recommendations of the NRC’s Fukushima Task Force.
The nine groups said they will now re-file the stay motion on construction with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In a statement from the opponents of the Vogtle expansion, they said they contend that construction should not be allowed until the NRC decides whether the proposed new reactors should be re-designed to provide for more rigorous protection against earthquakes and extended power outages.
“To build reactors that might need to be significantly modified later and extensively backfitted in light of new post-Fukushima regulatory requirements risks wasting ratepayer dollars, causing unnecessary pollution, and even possible abandonment of the project,” the statement read.
In January 2006, Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) selected the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor for both new units, Units 3 and 4. The AP1000 is a Generation III+ 1,154 MWe pressurized water reactor that uses passive safety systems. It is the first Gen. III+ reactor to receive design certification from the NRC. The NRC certified the AP1000 design on Dec. 30, 2011. Passive safety, also known as passive cooling, requires no sustained operator action or electronic feedback to shut down the plant safely in the event of an emergency. The AP1000 is equipped with water tanks, which can be emptied into the reactor vessel itself or into containment to flood in and around the reactor vessel. Instead of relying on pumps, the operators can rely on gravity once the fail-safe valve is opened. The NRC did impose a condition on the COL requiring inspection and testing of squib valves, a component of the reactors' passive cooling system.
"These two units will set the standard for safety and efficiency in the nuclear industry in America today," said Southern Co. Chairman and CEO Tom Fanning, during the Feb. 9 announcement.
Southern Co. submitted an application in 2008 for the two new units at Vogtle. On Feb. 9, 2012, NRC voted 4-1 to give Southern approval to construct and operate two new units at Plant Vogtle. The project is expected to cost around $14 billion.
To read the NRC's full order, click here.
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