New Nuclear Site Approved

Friday, February 10, 2012 - 11:55am

Georgia reactors will be the first built in decades.

Many of the 23,000 residents of rural Burke County in east Georgia heaved a sigh of relief Thursday at news that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the building of two more nuclear reactors at nearby Plant Vogtle.

The two original reactors of the plant went on line 25 years ago and construction on the new ones is already underway.

The $14-billion expansion means thousands of jobs for the economically depressed area: 4,000 temporary construction jobs and more than 800 permanent ones when the new reactors are finished in about five years.

That will also double the permanent work force at the plant.

The final construction license was music to the ears of many in nearby Waynesboro.

"We're excited that today has come and it's now official so that we can move forward without any hesitation," said Ashley Roberts, Executive Director of the Burke County Chamber of Commerce.

But not everyone in the area is pleased.

Reverend Willie Tomlin of Waynesboro's Thomas Grove Baptist Church is concerned about potential health effects on the local population.

He and other opponents say they will release a study next week that will supposedly show cancer rates in the area have increased 24% since Vogtle's first reactors began operating in the late 1980s.

"The new jobs, all that's great, I understand that," Rev. Tomlin said, "But I'm concerned about the safety of our people."

Some are also concerned about U.S. nuclear plant safety following last year's meltdown at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant caused by flooding from a Tsunami.

The Southern Company points out that the new Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors being built at Vogtle are safer because they are cooled by gravity and condensation, not electricity.

Japan's Fukushima accident happened because its electrical cooling pumps failed when they were flooded.

Utilities in Florida and the Carolinas are also planning to build reactors similar to Vogtle's new pair.

Georgia Power, which owns 47% of Plant Vogtle, is responsible for $6.1-billion of the $14-billion construction project.

Under President Obama, the U.S. Department of Energy approved an $8.3-billion loan guarantee which could help save a billion in overall costs.

Georgia Power customers are already paying an extra monthly fee on their bills to pay for the construction, which is expected to peak at $8.74 a month by 2015 and end when the reactors become operational shortly afterwards.

The new Vogtle reactors are the first approved since before the 1979 Three Mile Island Plant near meltdown in Pennsylvania.

Regulations and improvements ordered after that accident sent nuclear reactor construction costs soaring.

Vogtle's first two reactors ended up being more than $8-billion over budget.

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