NRC Approves Vogtle License, Chairman Only Vote for Safety

This blog was authored by Mandy Hancock, former high risk energy choices organizer at SACE.

Guest Blog | February 9, 2012 | Energy Policy, Nuclear

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4 to 1 today to issue the Combined Operating License for Vogtle units 3 and 4 near Augusta, Georgia. This is the first license to be approved in the United States in over 30 years. During the brief affirmation session today Chairman Gregory Jaczko firmly dissented and said:

“There are significant safety enhancements that have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima, and there’s still more work ahead of us…Knowing this, I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

Chairman Jaczko seems to be the only Commissioner to take heed to the fact that the NRC is still working through the lessons learned from Fukushima and the recommendations made by their Near Term Task Force last July. He made mention of another vote last December in which he also stood alone, when his four fellow Commissioners rejected a recommendation made by the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force to consider all the post-Fukushima safety upgrades to be mandatory for the “adequate protection” of nuclear power plants, dismissing the recommendation as “premature.”

This mentality of the Commission majority seems to defy logic. It seems more accurate to say that the Commission is premature in its vote to approve this license before all lessons from Fukushima can be analyzed in how they could affect the design and operation of the new reactors. As nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen says, “It is so much easier to change a drawing on a computer than to modify a design after the plant is constructed. A ten dollar modification on a computer now, can save a ten million dollar modification down the road, if you have to rip out concrete and do it over. This will increase the cost to the ratepayers.”

Representative Ed Markey (Democrat-Mass.), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee focused on safety in his response to the NRC’s vote, saying:

“Today, the NRC abdicated its duty to protect public health and safety, just to make construction faster and cheaper for the nuclear industry. While four NRC Commissioners continue to slow-walk the implementation of the Fukushima safety upgrades, today they have fast-tracked the construction of two nuclear reactors whose shield building could ‘shatter like a glass cup’ if impacted by an earthquake or other natural or man-made impact. Rather than ushering in the so-called nuclear renaissance, today’s vote demonstrates that the NRC is still stuck in the nuclear safety Dark Ages.”

Together with our allies, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy continues to challenge the license for the Vogtle reactors. Our challenge maintains that the NRC is violating federal law by issuing the license without fully considering the important lessons of the catastrophic Fukushima accident in Japan. Without knowing how these lessons impact the Vogtle operation, how can the NRC fulfill its mission to protect public safety and the environment? We will ask federal judges to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Vogtle reactors that explains how cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel storage pools will be upgraded to protect against earthquakes, flooding and prolonged loss of electric power to the site.  Please see our recent press release for more information on the legal challenge.


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