Washington, D.C. — Southern Company, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia today received permision to move forward on construction of two new reactors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Richard W. Caperton, Director of Clean Energy Investment, issued the following statement:
Today’s vote is the most important regulatory step in allowing Southern Company, Oglethorpe Power Corporation, and the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia to build two new reactors at the Plant Vogtle site in Waynesboro, Georgia. If they are successful in building the new reactors both on-time and on-budget—while adhering to the strongest safety standards—they will show a path forward for the whole nuclear industry. This would be a critical step in proving that nuclear power can continue to serve as a leading source of low-carbon power.
While today’s action is promising for the nuclear industry, it is important to recognize that this also has significant implications for electric ratepayers in Georgia and for taxpayers across the United States. If the new reactors are not brought online in a timely and cost-effective manner, as often happens with nuclear plants, those consumers could see their electric bills skyrocket. State and federal officials must make sure that Southern, MEAG, and Oglethorpe keep ratepayers’ interests in mind as this project moves forward.
The NRC’s approval will allow Southern and its partners to finalize an $8.33 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. DOE’s offer of a guarantee is contingent on regulatory approval of the project, which Southern and its partners have now received. This guarantee has generated controversy, but I am optimistic that DOE will ensure thatthe final terms of the guarantee—including the “credit subsidy fee” charged to the companies sufficiently protects taxpayers from exposure to increased risk.
The commissioners and staff deserve applause for implementing this new streamlined process at the NRC, which should address industry complaints about inefficient regulation, but concerns about the long-term viability of the nuclear industry remain. It is disappointing that there is still no permanent storage facility for radioactive waste (although the findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future are an important step forward), and new rules that acknowledge the increased risk of flooding at reactors because of climate change should be pursued.
Moving away from fossil fuels in order to address climate change is the biggest challenge facing our power sector, and safe nuclear power will be an important part of that solution. New reactors, though, face significant hurdles. Their economic viability almost certainly requires a high and rising price for carbon dioxide. Alternative ways to meet our energy needs, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, are increasingly cost-competitive with nuclear. And, most important, the recent disaster at Fukushima reminds us that nuclear power is always inherently risky.
To speak with Richard Caperton, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or email@example.com.