US approves first nuclear plant in decades

US approves first nuclear plant in decades

US has approved construction of two atomic reactors in the country, making them the first to be built in America in more than three decades despite objections from the nation's top nuclear regulator.

Commissioners of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 to approve the construction of two 1,100 megawatt Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000 at power generator at Vogtle in Georgia.

The site for the proposed plant already has two old reactors.

Only one member of the five-person NRC, Chairman Gregory Jaczko, dissented, citing safety concerns following a triple meltdown last year at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

He argued that the new licenses don't go far enough in requiring the builders to incorporate lessons learned from the Japanese nuclear disaster last year.

"In a 4-1 vote, the Commission found the staff's review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the COLs (combined licenses)," a official release said.

The Commission imposed a condition on the COLs requiring inspection and testing of squib valves, important components of the new reactors' passive cooling system, it said.

The NRC certified Westinghouse's amended AP1000 design on December 30, 2011.

The AP1000 is an electric pressurised-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention, it said.

The NRC decision in this regard is significant one.

Though the last new nuclear reactors came up in 1996; this is for the first time that NRC issued a license to build a new reactor after 1978.

The US froze construction of nuclear power plants after the partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979.

Congressman Joe Barton, Chairman Emeritus of the House Energy and Commerce Committee applauded the NRC's decision.

"For the first time since parachute pants and shoulder pads were all the rage, construction will soon begin on two new nuclear reactors," he said. 

"This is great news for our nation. It will create clean, reliable energy and put thousands of Americans back to work. Nuclear power is an important part of the energy future of this nation. I am hopeful that this isn't just a onetime event, but instead signals a new commitment to nuclear power in America," Barton said.

Senators Johnny Isakson, Saxby Chambliss, also praised the NRC vote to issue a Combined Construction and Operating License to Southern Company.

"I am thrilled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to allow construction at Plant Vogtle to begin because it will create clean, safe and affordable energy for Georgia’s families and small business, and it will create thousands of jobs in our state," said Isakson.

"An energy independent America is a safe America, and nuclear energy is a vital source of reliable, secure domestic energy. Not only is this great news for our country, but I am grateful Georgia will have the 5,000 on site jobs and 800 permanent jobs created by this project," Chambliss said.