Southern Nuclear awaits NRC approval for Plant Vogtle expansion

It is a busy week for Southern Nuclear that could culminate with a historic first for the U.S. nuclear power industry.


The company, which is seeking Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to add two reactors to Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Ga., is briefing federal regulators today in Atlanta on the status of site preparation work it hopes will lead to the nation’s first nuclear reactor construction in a generation.

Then on Thursday, during a noon meeting at the NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md., the full commission is scheduled to vote on whether to affirm the company’s quest for a combined operating license that would authorize both the construction and operation of the reactors.

The license, if issued, would be the first of its kind and would also lead to the construction of the first AP1000 modular reactors in the U.S., creating a workforce in Georgia that would peak at about 3,500 during the next three years.

Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman at the commission’s headquarters, said an affirmative vote Thursday would provide staff members with the final components needed to issue the license, which could occur “within days.” The commission, he added, also has the options of denying the license or asking for revisions in the application.

Although federal officials will not predict the outcome of the vote, Southern Nuclear officials are counting on the long awaited approval.

The company has scheduled a news conference in Atlanta – immediately after the NRC vote – in which Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning and Georgia Power Co. President W. Paul Bowers will discuss the “historic license for new Vogtle units.”

During the past three years, the site has been transformed from pine forests and old buildings into a secure, reactor-ready complex with footings and foundations for turbine buildings, nuclear islands and cooling towers. Company officials hope to move ahead with the project and bring the reactors into operation in 2016 and 2017.

Environmental activists turned up the heat today in efforts to block the $14 billion project.

A consortium of nine groups, including Friends of the Earth and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said a joint request will be made to the NRC asking that Thursday’s license decision be delayed to give them time to file a legal challenge in U.S. District Court.

The groups will contend the NRC’s evaluation of the Vogtle project failed to consider the impacts of the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The groups also plan to challenge the recently approved design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

Although the Vogtle project is likely to be the first to receive approval for reactor construction, several other applications remain under evaluation, including SCANA Corp.’s effort to add two units to the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina.

In all, according to the NRC Web site, there are at least 18 combined operating licenses under review for a total of 28 units.