Nuclear power: NRC approves first new reactors since 1978
The NRC, America's nuclear power regulatory board, has given the go ahead to two new reactors in Georgia. Industry advocates call the decision 'historic,' but it had a prominent critic.
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Other nuclear power critics noted that after the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident in 1979, the NRC refused to approve new licenses for 18 months pending completion of its safety review.Skip to next paragraph
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"The subsequent licenses were all contingent on adopting the TMI action plan" for safety upgrades, says Peter Bradford, who served on the commission beginning in 1977 and during the TMI crisis.
But nuclear-power advocates proclaimed today's vote "historic" and a stamp of approval for the new Westinghouse AP1000 plant design Vogtle will use. New nuclear plants would be a big boost for the nation's energy posture, they argued.
“The United States is building new nuclear energy facilities under an improved licensing process that exhaustively addresses safety considerations," Marvin Fertel, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. "It also assures that the lessons learned from the industry’s licensing and construction experience are properly applied to future projects."
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, called the NRC decision an "enormous milestone in the effort to provide safe, reliable, and clean electricity to consumers."
Currently, 104 nuclear reactors generate roughly 20 percent of the nation's power. The last time the NRC approved a such a permit was in 1978 for a plant built near Raleigh, N.C. If completed as expected around 2016, the new Vogtle reactors will cost about $14 billion.
Several antinuclear groups vowed to sue, and former NRC commissioner Mr. Bradford questioned the federal policy of making loan guarantees to finance such plants. The US Department of Energy has made $8.8 billion available for Vogtle.
"Its been clear all along that the nuclear renaissance consisted of nothing more than the number of plants governments are prepared to build on behalf of the nuclear power industry," says Bradford, now a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.
"A few years ago, there were 31 plants being readied for construction," Bradford says. "Now it's four – the two at Vogtle and ... two in South Carolina. There's nothing in the pipeline after that."
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