Energizing our future

Vogtle reactors herald new era in U.S. power production

The American energy renaissance, history will record, began here.

Augustans may not have realized the significance of Thursday’s approval for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle south of here. But it led many newscasts around the nation, and for good reason.

For one thing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s
approval means this country will be building its first reactors since Jimmy Carter was president and before much of the population was born.

Oh, and those newer generations? They sop up more energy with their gadgets and playthings than any other in history.

And despite the chronic concerns of the far left – which is against every form of mass-produced energy there is – environment-conscious folks of every age should be thrilled. Nuclear is the cleanest energy capable of powering an industrialized nation.

Moreover, notes Vogtle major owner Georgia Power’s parent Southern Company, the plant “has been certified by The Wildlife Habitat Council since 1993 for wildlife enhancement and conservation efforts.”

The greater Augusta area and the state of Georgia, too, should be proud of leading the renaissance. That vision and courage will be rewarded with up to 5,000 construction jobs alone, and a project encompassing $14 billion.

Anyone who has visited the existing Plant Vogtle since it went online in 1987 comes away impressed with the sophistication and obvious care the plant is operated with. That no doubt made the federal approval easier.

This also is the first time a plant has been granted a construction and operation permit simultaneously. Previously, the operational permit was withheld until after construction, which is rather silly and counterproductive.

Though the new reactors won’t be producing electricity for some four years, congratulations already are in order. Georgia Power and Vogtle’s other owners have spent seven years and $4 billion just getting to this point. Earth work, and other preparation that was possible prior to Thursday’s final approval, already has left an awesome picture at the site – including the world’s largest crane. It weighs 650 tons, it’s bolted into 3,000 cubic yards of concrete and it can lift more than 1,000 tons.

It took years for this project to clear several difficult bureaucratic hurdles. But at least one psychological hurdle might be just as daunting – overcoming anxiety in the wake of the Fukushima power plant disaster in Japan last March.

Critics of nuclear power point to that as an example of nuclear energy’s instability and danger. But what they fail to point out is that Fukushima’s nuclear radiation leaks came only after a magnitude-9 earthquake and a subsequent tsunami damaged aging reactors installed in the 1970s and designed in the ’60s.

By comparison, Vogtle’s reactors are scrupulously safe. The new Westinghouse AP1000 models include passive safety features that can cool reactor accidents without needing electricity or human assistance.

NRC Commissioner William D. Magwood hailed the reactors as representing “a new era of nuclear safety.”

All eyes will be on Georgia and this marquee project. Scott Peterson of the Nuclear Energy Institute has deemed it the largest construction project in the state’s history.

And it provides the template for future nuclear projects in a nation eager for inexpensive, reliable alternative energy.

What an exciting prospect to energize the CSRA.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon