In a 165-page decision issued after hours Monday, the three-judge board essentially found that the staff review of both safety and environmental issues is sufficient to allow the NRC to issue the early site permit and limited work authorization, said NRC spokesman Roger Hannah.
Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., filed its Vogtle early site permit application Aug. 15, 2006, and 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.
Mr. Hannah said the combined operating license case remains pending before the same panel, with at least one admitted contested issue that will require an additional hearing. Both the early site permit and the combined operating license are major milestones in the process of adding new reactors at Vogtle.
The early site permit program is designed to completely explore and adjudicate most environmental issues associated with the nuclear reactor project. Once the combined operating license proceedings move forward, the matters already covered in the early site permit cannot be resurrected, which helps streamline the process.
Beth Thomas, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear, said the ruling means the early site permit could be sent to the company by late August and will help accelerate progress on the project.
It is one step in the NRCs new, streamlined, licensing process, and that process is designed to reduce regulatory uncertainty by allowing utilities to complete the process in stages, she said. Completion of the early site permit process resolves many of the site related safety and environmental issues and basically determines that the site is suitable to construct a new nuclear energy plant.
The company has provided a notice to proceed to both Shaw Group Inc., the contractor, and to Westinghouse, which is building the reactor units that will be installed there. The notice allows the companies to mobilize at the site and perform construction work that is not part of the plants safety system.
Activities under way at the site include placement of engineered backfill into areas excavated for the new units, construction of retaining walls and installation of a waterproof membrane, she said.
The expansion project would generate about 3,000 construction jobs and could result in the first new reactor going online as early as 2016, with a second new unit starting operations in 2017.
According to Judge G. Paul Bollwerk III, who chairs the licensing board, there is one pending intervenor appeal regarding three contested environmental issues, but the written ruling says that would not impact the boards decision unless the commission decides to step in.
Once issued, the Vogtle early site permit would be only the fourth such permit issued by the commission. The others are for new reactors at Clinton Site in central Illinois, the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi and North Anna site in central Virginia.