It’s been 34 years — and several nuclear accidents later — but a divided federal panel on Thursday licensed a utility to build nuclear reactors in the U.S. for the first time since 1978.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, opposed licensing the two reactors at this time even though he had earlier praised their design.
“There is still more work” to be done to ensure that lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima disaster last year are engrained in the reactor design, he told his colleagues. “I cannot support this licensing as if Fukushima never happened. I believe it requires some type of binding commitment that the Fukushima enhancements that are currently projected and currently planned to be made would be made before the operation of the facility.”
“There is no amnesia,” responded Commissioner Kristine Svinck, speaking for the 4-1 majority and noting that the industry has been directed to adopt those lessons.
The licensing covers two reactors estimated to cost $14 billion that the Southern Company wants to add to its existing Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. Preliminary work has already begun and plans are for the first new reactor to be operating in 2016. ….