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Nuclear power: Feds may OK first reactors since Three Mile Island

February 9, 2012 |  7:03 am

Georgia's Plant Vogtle nuclear facility
Will today mark the beginning of a new American nuclear age?

Federal regulators in Washington on Thursday may decide whether to approve construction of what would be the first U.S. nuclear power plant since the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island.

The $14-billion project would bring two new reactors to Georgia's Plant Vogtle, which already has two reactors, constructed more than two decades ago.

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission votes to approve the request to build the reactors, they could be up and running as early as 2016, according to the Associated Press.

Plant Vogtle, set in the countryside in Burke County, near Augusta, provides Georgia with 10% of its electricity. The new reactors could double its capacity.

The Southern Co., whose subsidiary, Georgia Power, owns the bulk of the Vogtle facility, argues that nuclear power is the "most cost-effective, reliable and environmentally responsible fuel source today." The company also notes that demand for electricity is expected to rise 27% in the Southeast.

The new reactors will be based on a Westinghouse design that has already been approved by the NRC, according to the company.

A number of anti-nuclear groups, meanwhile, say they will file a lawsuit to force the plant owners to divulge more details about how the buildings will be protected against earthquakes such as the one that hit Japan last year, leading to damage to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, and other potential catastrophes, according to Kristi E. Swartz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Because the plants are being built with a federal subsidy of more than $8 billion in loan guarantees, anti-nuclear forces have derisively described the project as "Solyndra on Steroids," a reference to the now-bankrupt solar-equipment company that was the recipient of a $535-million loan guarantee -- a perk that some Republicans suspect was a political favor to a major Obama administration campaign donor who was also a key Solyndra investor.


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Photo: Steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle, in Waynesboro, Ga., in April 2010. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to vote Thursday on Southern Co.'s application to begin full construction of the nation's first new nuclear units in 30 years at Plant Vogtle. Credit: Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press