U.S. moving forward on construction of two new nuclear reactors

The Takeaway

For the first time since 1978, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday granted a license to build and operate  new nuclear reactors in the United States.

Two reactors will be built at a nuclear plant in Georgia. Matt Wald, the New York Times’ reporter on nuclear, said   in pitching the request, leaders from Southern Company, the primary backer of the new plant, pointed out that their facility well 100 miles inland and well elevated — basically assuring that it was at an extremely low risk of the sorts of damage suffered by the Fukushima plants in Japan.

If the plant in Georgia is constructed successfully, it could bring forward a whole host of new nuclear plants.

“If they can build it on the schedule and budget they planned, if the price of natural gas comes up a little bit and if we ever get really concerned about carbon, then it is the first of many,” Wald said. “If any of those things doesn’t happen, it’s probably the first of two.”

Wald said the new nuclear reactors are generally being greeted favorably by neighbors.

“They’re sources of high-quality and steady employment. For the period of building they’re sources of temporary but very good employment. They pay a lot of taxes and they have a very good record of not causing problems in the area,” Wald said.

And yet, there are plans from anti-nuke groups to file lawsuits against the plant. One group criticizes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for granting the license before concluding what action it needs to take after evaluating the Fukushima disaster.

“The legal arguments don’t look particularly strong to me,” Wald said. “A lot of these groups don’t like nuclear power for a whole list of problems and they’re just looking for the ones in which they think this process is vulnerable to court challenge.”

If all goes as planned, the two reactors will open in 2016 and 2017, Wald said. If built as designed, it’ll be the largest nuclear power plant in the United States, with two 1,000 megawatt reactors.

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