U.S. Approves First Nuclear Plant Since 1986

NRC OK's two new reactors at Georgia facility.

The U.S. government gave the final green light Feb. 9 for the construction of the first new nuclear power reactors in the country since 1986.

In a hearing, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of two new reactors at power generator Southern Co.'s existing Vogtle, Ga., facility.

Southern Co. will install two Westinghouse-Toshiba A1000 pressurized water reactors in the plant, the design of which was approved in December after lengthy delays to address risks of terror attacks or meltdowns like those that hit Japanese reactors after the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year.

The decision Feb. 9 came despite being opposed by NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, who said Japan's nuclear industry disaster signaled the need for more caution.

"I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima has never happened... In my view that is what we are doing," he said.

In December, the NRC approved the A1000 design, saying it incorporates passive safety features "that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for human intervention."

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks of 2001, Westinghouse was required to design it to withstand being hit by an aircraft.

It also has to be able to shut down by itself even if the power is cut off -- as happened to Japan's Fukushima reactors after the earthquake and tsunami last year.

At the time, Jaczko said the design "provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative safety and security functions."

It "also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials," he said.

The same reactor is also slated to be used in South Carolina Electric & Gas's planned South Carolina power plant.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012

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