Here’s some news that will probably drag Jane Fonda out of retirement and back on the war path. It also provides us with a rare opportunity to praise the Obama administration. For the first time since 1978, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved licenses for the construction of two new nuclear power plants to be built at the existing Vogtle site in Georgia.
The commission voted 4-1 in favor, with NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko casting the sole vote against granting the license. Jaczko said later that he wanted binding assurances that the new reactors would be modified to meet recommendations made by the agency’s task force on the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year.
“I think this license needed something that ensured that the changes as a result of Fukushima would be implemented,” Jaczko said in an interview after the vote. “It’s like when you go to buy a house and the home inspector identifies things that should be fixed. You don’t go to closing before those things are fixed.”
Jaczko’s concerns are valid, but shouldn’t have been a reason for a no vote. Southern will need to win the battle of public opinion as well as the expected court challenges coming from as many as ten anti-nuclear power groups. We did learn some important lessons from the Fukushima disaster and the suggested improvements will no doubt be part of the final plan. Assuming this doesn’t get bogged down in the courts, they plan to have the first of the two plants on line in 2016 at a cost of roughly $14B.
This is only a drop in the bucket, sadly, in terms of expanding the nation’s fission reactor capability. 29 other applications have been shelved for years and may never be brought up again. As the article notes, it’s somewhat ironic that a chief factor in stopping the process is the glut of cheap natural gas we have, which is easing the sense of urgency for getting new nuke plants on line. Plus, these plants cost a lot of money to build before they begin delivering any returns on a very large investment. But Vogtle should serve as in interesting test case so we can find out precisely how viable nuclear power will be as part of the “all of the above” energy plan we need.