A boon for Vogtle

The federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is holding sessions today and Monday in Augusta to hear any environmental concerns over the proposed construction of two additional nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro.

And after these concerns are fairly heard, we hope the board will rightly decide that the new reactors will not harm our area, but help it. If there's any time this country needs more nuclear plants, it's now.

Filled up your car lately? Perhaps you have, after taking out a small bank loan. Fossil-fuel prices are soaring and becoming increasingly unstable. Given today's environment, it's a no-brainer to pursue several alternative power sources that don't further pollute the atmosphere, and aren't prone to sudden price fluctuations in a free market.

Hence, nuclear power. And building new reactors in Burke County would be a positive boon.

The mere construction of two 1,100-megawatt units will create thousands of temporary construction jobs. When completed and operational - the target date would be in mid-2016 - the plant's full-time employment would be doubled to 1,800 workers.

Remember, this is a power plant that already accounts for about 80 percent of Burke County's tax digest. Imagine all the positive economic offshoots that would result from the new reactors.

More workers would need to buy houses to live in, and they would patronize local stores. And you know they would visit Augusta occasionally on consumer errands, so our community would benefit as well.

And compared to competing power sources, the operating cost of nuclear power is dirt cheap. Nuclear costs less than 2 cents a kilowatt-hour, compared to nearly 10 cents at a plant that burns oil and sends greenhouse gases sky-high.

Because of that pollution factor, if anyone should be pushing for more nuclear plants, it's environmentalists. Nuclear plants don't deplete the ozone layer, they don't cause acid rain and they don't contribute to smog.

Ah, but the anti-nuclear crowd loves to trot out the twin Ghosts of Nuclear Accidents Past - Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Of course, they can't point out any other examples of those kinds of large-scale nuclear meltdowns at civilian plants - because there haven't been any.

Nuclear opponents also try to frighten people with the spectre of prolonged radiation exposure if you live near a nuclear plant. Problem is, they provide a fear factor without providing the context that shows that fear is unfounded.

Radiation is measured in millirems. Living near a nuclear plant such as Vogtle would expose you, at most, to 5 millirems of radiation a year. By comparison, we get 370 millirems of ordinary background radiation a year merely being out and about in our daily lives. To truly suffer harmful effects, you would have to be exposed to at least 10,000 millirems annually. And you'd have to receive, say, three chest x-rays a day for an entire year to approach that level.

These scare tactics shouldn't be deterrents to building more nuclear plants. We need more electricity. The demand is not magically going to go down. And one of our commonsense energy solutions is staring us right in the face.

Constructing new reactors at Vogtle is a prime example of a win-win situation for everyone. Consumers get more cheaply produced electricity, and our area experiences an economic windfall. It makes complete sense, and any move to make all that happen should be approved and expedited.

IF YOU GO

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board will hear concerns over the environmental impact of the proposed expansion of Plant Vogtle in Burke County. The hearings will be at the Doubletree Hotel and Convention Center, 2651 Perimeter Parkway, Augusta, on Sunday, April 27, from 4 to 6 p.m., and Monday, April 28, from 7 to 9 p.m.

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