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Friday
Feb102012

NRC Commissioners approve 2 new AP1000s at Vogtle by 4 to 1 vote

Graphic courtesy of Fairewinds AssociatesBy a 4 to 1 vote, the Commissioners of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) today approved the combined Construction and Operating License Application (COLA) of Southern Nuclear Company, paving the way for two 1,100 megawatt-electric Toshiba-Westinghouse "Advanced Passive" AP1000s to be built at the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Augusta, Georgia. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko cast the sole "no" vote, while Commissioners Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood IV, and William Ostendorff voted in favor. Chairman Jaczko had previously cast the sole dissenting votes against such controversial proposals as: the 20 year license extension at the Oyster Creek, NJ GE BWR Mark I, the oldest operating reactor in the U.S. and identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4; and the Private Fuel Storage, LLC high-level radioactive waste "parking lot dump" targeted at the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in Utah. Recently, Beyond Nuclear's Linda Gunter pointed out that Chairman Jaczko, although not perfect, shows concern for safety that sets him apart from the other four NRC Commissioners.

Beyond Nuclear responded to the Vogtle Units 3 and 4 NRC approval with a media statement, pointing out that a NRC license does not ensure project success. In fact, some atomic reactors in the U.S. that were almost completely built, such as two reactors at Midland, MI -- or even entirely built, such as the Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island, NY -- were eventually cancelled, wasting many billions of dollars. Thus, the $8.3 billion federal nuclear loan guarantee announced by President Obama himself in Feb., 2010 still risks leaving taxpayers holding the bag if Vogtle Units 3 and 4 default on their loan repayments. This is 15 times more money at stake than was involved in the Solyndra debacle. Even if the reactors are constructed and operated, this would just add radiological risks to the financial risks. The George W. Bush administration, as one of its final acts in office, did the owners and operators of Vogtle 3 and 4 a huge favor -- at taxpayer expense -- by making the U.S. Department of Energy liable for any and all high-level radioactive waste that would be generated.

As mentioned in the NRC media release above, and as shown in photos at Southern Nuclear's website, major "pre-construction" construction has actually been underway at Vogtle 3 and 4 for years, long before today's NRC approval of the COLA. How's that possible?! As a parting gift to the industry he was about to go work for, just before leaving the NRC, Commissioner Jeffrey Merrifield led the effort to get the word "construction" re-defined in NRC regulations. Now almost all the plant -- apart from the reactor itself and its containment -- can be built, even before the construction license is approved, and even before environmental impact assessments are undertaken. Merrifield strolled through the "revolving door" between regulator and regulated, going to work for the Shaw Group, which specializes in new reactor construction.

The 4 NRC Commissioners' "yes" votes ignore a major safety risk with the AP1000s, identified by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates in Vermont (see image, above), who serves as an expert witness for an environmental coalition opposing numerous proposed AP1000s in various stages of development across the Southeastern U.S. Infamously, Toshiba, now merged with Westinghouse, was the architect and reactor supplier for the Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 reactor, which suffered the worst explosion during the nuclear catastrophe; its reactor building now resembles a large pile of twisted steel and rubble, and its reactor core and high-level radioactive waste storage pool are in a largely unknown (at least to the public) condition.

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