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Nuclear power: NRC approves first new reactors in U.S. since 1978

February 9, 2012 | 10:28 am

Plant Vogtle

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved construction of the first new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States since 1978. The commission’s board approved the decision by a 4-1 vote, with its chairman Gregory B. Jaczko casting the dissenting vote.

The new reactors will be added to the Vogtle plant outside of Waynesboro, Ga., and operated by Southern Co. The reactors will use light water technology developed by Westinghouse. The new reactors could be in full operation by 2016, according to Southern. The reactors will together generate 2,200 MW, enough to power almost 1.8 million homes.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Nuclear Safety, welcomed the approval.

"These new reactors will employ cutting-edge technology that requires fewer components than our current nuclear fleet, thereby increasing safety by providing fewer opportunities for things to go wrong during an emergency,” he said in a public statement.
 
He added: "Nuclear energy has helped curb our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and has helped reduce harmful air pollution that damages health and causes climate change.”

The plan to expand the plant has faced opposition from Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, which questioned the safety of the reactor design in the wake of the damage caused to nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Japan, by an earthquake last year.

“Today, the NRC abdicated its duty to protect public health and safety just to make construction faster and cheaper for the nuclear industry,” Markey said in a statement.

The Department of Energy is expected to provide $8.3 billion in conditional loan guarantees for the construction of the reactors.

The last reactor granted approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission came shortly before the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979.

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-- Ian Duncan in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Steam rises from the cooling towers of existing nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle in April 2010. Credit: Mary Ann Chastain / Associated Press/File

 

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