Representatives from the Southern Company are meeting with US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) officials today in Atlanta. The NRC is expected to give its final verdict on a critical (pun intended) construction license for two new reactors at Plant Vogtle in South Georgia.
Plant Vogtle following construction
If approved, the reactors at Vogtle will be the first new American reactors in 30 years.
Protesters have started gathering outside the Federal building in Atlanta. Fears that arose as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster (follow the link for some amazing NatGeo pictures from inside Fukushima) 11 months ago are at the top of the protester’s rhetoric. The protesters include at least 9 groups that intend to challenge the project in Federal court.
The new reactors will be Westinghouse’s Generation III+, AP1000 design. The long term plan for America’s fleet of aging nuclear reactors includes the replacement of the pre-1970’s era General Electric boiling water reactor design with the advanced safety and technology package found in the AP1000. The Vogtle project will be a significant first step in the badly needed technology refresh for American nuclear power.
One would think that protesters with Fukushima fears would be eager to see these new safer reactor technologies deployed. Even the most ardent environmentalists have started to see the light that nuclear power has advantages over fossil fuel power generation technologies. These warming views on nuclear power have been reinforced in recent weeks by controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas and Federal roadblocks to use of oil extracted from Canadian tar sands.
If approved, Vogtle Units 2 and 3 could be a major boon to economic development throughout the Southeastern Region. According to Georgia Trend Magazine, “Site construction employment is expected to peak at 3,500 jobs during 2013 and 2014, with 800 new permanent employees needed to staff the new units when they begin operation in 2016 and 2017.”
In addition, the availability of plenty of electrical power will be an attractive feature for all types of industrial and commercial enterprises looking for new location. Data center site selection criteria, in particular, values the availability of cheap, reliable and plentiful power very highly.
Hopefully, the NRC will approve Southern Company’s construction license and the construction of Vogtle Units 2 and 3 will move forward. This will lead to:
- High paying construction jobs
- Long term employment opportunities for nuclear trained personnel
- New incentives for employers seeking to locate in the Southeast
- A favorable environment for future data center construction
- More reliable and safe nuclear power technology deployed in the US
- And (of course) reduced dependence on foreign oil