The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in a 4-1 vote on Thursday, approved extension of licenses for two new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear site in Georgia, the first licenses granted in more than 30 years, an approval called “a moral hazard.”
Two new nuclear reactors received the go-ahead with the NRC’s action on Thursday, the approval of Southern Company’s Construction and Operating License Application (COLA), and brought an immediate reaction from concerned groups pointing to previous licensed projects blocked from operation over faulty construction and fraud, and the Fukushima disaster as examples of lessons learned.
Public Citizen’s Allison Fisher noted the approval is a step in “the wrong direction,” and cited the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan as an example. “Nuclear development in the U.S. has been dormant for decades for a variety of good reasons, so it is inexplicable that we’ve chosen this moment in history to expand the use of a failed and dangerous technology,” she said in a statement.
NRC’s approval of the COLA is the first such approval since one granted in 1978, a year before the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania.
The Vogtle nuclear site, located near Augusta, has actually been under construction for years, according to Beyond Nuclear, a nuclear watchdog group, and in a statement noted, “An NRC license does not guarantee ultimate project success. Atomic reactors have been NRC licensed and then nearly, or even entirely, constructed, and still blocked from operating.”
The group pointed to a lawsuit involving the nuclear industry’s Marble Hill and Bailey plants in Indiana and “Construction Work in Progress” charges applied to ratepayers’ electric bills, proven in court to be illegal. Hundreds of millions of dollars were returned to the ratepayers.
Another example was the Shoreham, New York nuclear plant, completely built and then prevented from operation after it was shown a mass evacuation in case of a nuclear accident was an impossibility. Beyond Nuclear added in the statement, “billions of dollars were wasted.”
Regarding the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors and their connection to President Obama’s federal nuclear loan guarantees awarded to the nuclear utilities who proposed the new plants, U.S. taxpayers would be responsible for $8.3 billion if there is a default on loan repayments. Beyond Nuclear notes, “The nuclear utilities have no skin in the game, representing a tremendous moral hazard.”
Vogtle’s expansion project, started six years ago during the Bush administration under an early site permit application, was highly touted and until the NRC’s action this week, had failed to gain traction. Fisher added the plant serves as a reminder of why it has been more than three decades since since reactor construction was stopped in the U.S., stating, “Nuclear plants are so expensive that corporations cannot affort to build them without a massive infusion of government money, and they raise serious safety questions that remain unaddressed.”