New Vogtle reactors won't impact environment, federal agency says

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A proposal to add two new reactors to Plant Vogtle cleared a major hurdle today with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s finding that there are no environmental impacts to prevent issuing an early site permit.

Southern Nuclear filed its Vogtle early site permit application Aug. 15, 2006. The company has also applied for a Combined Operating License to build and operate two AP1000 reactors on the site on the Savannah River 26 miles downstream from Augusta.

The early site permitting process allows an applicant to address site-related issues, such as environmental impacts, for possible future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant at the site.

Although it is not a license to build reactors, it is important because it streamlines the process to determine whether a proposed site is suitable.

“Part of the information for the early site permit finding will go into the process for the combined operating license process, because there is some overlap, particularly on the environmental side,” said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.

“The things they look at are hydrology, geology, the flora and fauna of the area - all the things you’d expect to look at if you gauge how two new units affect the area.”

The permits have been opposed by environmental groups on grounds the NRC failed to consider the impact of additional water withdrawals from the Savannah River, particularly during periods of drought.

Sara Barczak, energy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said her organization is evaluating Monday’s ruling and will likely submit additional contentions during the 30-day comment window allowed by the NRC.

“From our initial analysis, we still hold firm that the final EIS is still deficient in the same issues we’ve been concerned about already,” she said. “Most notably, the water issues have become even more pressing with the public in light of the recent drought.”

However, Mr. Hannah said NRC staffers took a long and critical look at water use and other issues.

“You’re going to have cyclical rainfall and what this does is looks at it more long-term rather than just at specific drought conditions,” he said. “It looks at what has happened historically, both with droughts and periods of increased rainfall.”

The early site permit, once issued, does not require Southern Nuclear to build the reactors, nor does the combined operating license also being sought by the company.

The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board must also conclude a hearing on the Vogtle ESP application before the agency’s final decision, which is currently expected by late 2009.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

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