US Licenses First Nuclear Reactors Since 1978

Last week the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of two new nuclear reactors for the Southern Company, to be added to their existing Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia. These reactors are the first to be added in the US since 1978, before the Three Miles Island incident. As such, it made the news and was a highly debated decision, both on the NRC panel, among scientists and in the media. The final decision was made on Thursday and it wasn’t unanimous, with the chairman voting against the other members. After the events in Japan from last year, this is sure to cause a lot of controversy around the country.

The licensing that was just approved covers $14 billion worth of reactors, two in all, to be added to an existing facility. This is part of the company’s aim to reduce energy dependence on cold burning and other unclean energy sources, and keep growing their nuclear facilities. But in the aftermath of Fukushima, not everyone sees things this way. The public confidence in nuclear power has been shaken. The chairman wrote “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.” But the other members of the NRC panel voted yes because they believe the recommendations made after the disaster are well under way to be implemented, and the industry has learned those lessons.

According to scientists, those recommendations are mostly aimed at the current reactors, who adopt some of the same design from the Japanese one. New constructions like these two new reactors are different. The CEO of Southern Company said “There will be issues that apply to the U.S. nuclear fleet, but they apply much more closely to the current fleet, not this newest generation of nuclear technology.” Still, not everyone is on the same side. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a group of scientists that say they want improved security in the nuclear standards, said that it’s too soon to be approving new reactors, and more time is needed to fully comprehend what happened in the Tsunami disaster. The Obama administration is for nuclear power, and as such now that the decision has been made, it’s unlikely to be repelled. Construction has already begun and the new reactors are expected to be online in 2016.

In the end, it seems like an increase to the US nuclear fleet is going to happen, and older coal plants may see themselves being replaced by even more nuclear reactors in the future. The public concerns are apparently being addressed, and all of the reactors around the country are being checked by regulators to make sure they are compliant with the latest regulations. Nuclear power currently provides around 20% of the energy in the US, and is likely to grow in the future.

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