The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has denied a request by several groups that had sought to delay the effectiveness of NRC’s decision earlier this year to approve two new reactor units at the Vogtle nuclear complex in Georgia.
The NRC issued a combined construction and operating license (COL) to an ownership group led by Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) subsidiary Georgia Power. It marked the first new nuclear plant license issued in the United States in more than 30 years.
In an order issued April 16, the commission rejected a petition by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL), Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, and Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND), to stay the effectiveness of the license approval.
In the order, the NRC noted that the petitioners participated in various aspects of the Vogtle licensing case in recent years and have had their objections heard along the way.
The petitioners said that prior to approval of the license for Vogtle units 3 and 4, the NRC should have prepared a supplement to the final environmental impact statement assessing the implications of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown disaster in Japan last year.
But the commission found no evidence of “imminent, irreparable harm” that would result if the licenses are issued. As for the Fukushima-related risks, they might arise from “the operating of the new Vogtle reactors, not constructing them,” NRC said.
The NRC also found that the nuclear foes were “unlikely to obtain judicial relief” given that they don’t raise any Fukushima-related impacts that NRC has not already reviewed.
The commission also cited the NRC staff’s conclusion that there is little likelihood of a Fukushima-scale disaster in the United States. Also, the NRC and its staff are continuing a review to further reduce such risks, the commission said.
Unlike the earlier NRC vote on the Vogtle license approval, the Vogtle opponents’ motion was defeated in a 5-to-0 vote. This time NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko joined the majority.
“I did not support the Commission decision authorizing the Vogtle licenses because they did not include a binding obligation to implement all Fukushima-related safety enhancements,” Jaczko noted in a concurring decision. “Nonetheless, given that these licenses have been issued, I concur with the general analysis of my colleagues that Petitioners have not satisfied the standard for obtaining a stay of a commission decision.”