NRC Approves First New Nuclear Reactors in 30 Years

In February, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved licenses to build two new nuclear reactors on the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant site in Burke County, Ga. They are the first new licenses the NRC has approved in more than three decades.

A consortium of utilities, led by Southern Co., will build and operate the new reactors. The five-member NRC panel voted 4–1, with the majority ruling in favor of the application for two combined licenses (COLs). The COLs authorize Southern Co. to build and operate two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site, adjacent to the existing reactors.

The reactors are a new Westinghouse design. And they will cost $14 billion and generate 1,100 megawatts each. The AP1000 is an electric pressurized-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention.

The NRC imposed a condition on the COLs requiring inspection and testing of squib valves, important components of the new reactors’ passive cooling system, which would help avoid a meltdown situation similar to what the Dai-ichi reactors faced in Fukushima, Japan.

The ruling has been long coming, with the process undergoing review. Southern Co. submitted its review seven years ago.

While it wasn’t so long ago that new reactors have come online (the youngest active reactor started operation in 1996), the NRC hasn’t issued a license to build a new reactor since 1978, a year before the incident at Three Mile Island, which, combined with high cost to implement, cast a shadow upon the technology.

According to Southern Co., the first reactor will come online in 2016. The second reactor will follow the next year.

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