Feds Approve First Nuclear Reactors Since 1970s

By a vote of 4 to 1, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of the first new nuclear reactors to be built in the United States since 1978. The reactors would be built at the Vogtle power plant near Waynesboro, Ga., which is a nuclear power plant operated by the Southern Company. 

As The Hill's E-2 Wire blog noted, the lone dissenting vote was cast by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko. The nuclear industry has faced numerous obstacles, most recently the backlash following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, in its efforts to build new nuclear plants in the U.S., and the Commission has issued recommendations on how to better protect U.S. reactors from earthquakes and floods.

The Southern Company's Vogtle power plant, where the two new reactors are slated to be built. Credit: Southern Company.

The country currently operates 104 nuclear reactors, but all were approved at least three decades ago.

“This is a historic day,” said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group in a statement. “Today’s licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security.”

Andrew Restuccia, writing for The Hill, noted the project still needs to overcome public opposition to nuclear power that may result in a lawsuit against the project, and congressional opposition to a hefty $8.3 billion federal conditional loan guarantee for reactor construction. 

“Some Democrats in Congress — noting that the loan guarantee is more than 15 times the size of the one granted to the failed solar firm Solyndra — have called on Obama not to finalize the loan.”

“I think we are putting our taxpayer money at unnecessary risk given the unresolved safety issues and the lessons that have been learned from Fukushima,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a vocal critic of nuclear power, told The Hill Wednesday.

The Obama administration has supported the development of new nuclear power plants as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissons and cut the use of fossil fuels.