Nuclear reactor approved for first time in 30 years

The U.S. Nuclear Regulator Commission has approved licenses to build two new nuclear reactors, CNNMoney.com reports.
Written by Ina Muri, Weekend Editor

The U.S. Nuclear Regulator Commission on Thursday approved licenses to build two new nuclear reactors, CNNMoney.com reports.

The application was submitted seven years ago and prep-work has been under way for some time—now the reactors are being built in Georgia by a consortium of utilities led by Southern Col. They will be sited at the Vogtle nuclear power plant complex, about 170 miles east of Atlanta.

Although new nuclear reactors have come online in the U.S. within the last couple of decades, the NRC has not issued a license to build a new reactor since 1978—one year before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania. The reactors that were opened the past couple of decades received their licenses before 1978.

The plants are being built with help of a conditional 8.3 billion dollar loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. The new reactors are created by a Westinghouse design called AP1000, and are expected to cost 14 billion dollars. It provides 2200 megawatts of power, which is enough to power one million homes, a spokesperson from Southern Co. said. The first reactor is expected to come online in 2016 followed by the second one in 2017.

Critics have said the containment walls of the AP1000 are not strong enough to survive a terrorist attack. Scott Shaw, a Westinghouse spokesman, said that they have redesigned the walls after September 11, 2001, and they now have proved to hold up during simulations.

Shaw also said that the new design has a passive cooling system that makes it much safer than the older designs. The AP1000 uses gravity and condensation, as opposed to electricity, to cool the fuel rods. He further notes that it was the loss of electricity that led to the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors that followed the tsunami in 2011.

However, a coalition of nine mostly regional anti-nuclear groups say that the current design is not safe and plan to challenge Thursday’s decision in federal court. Moreover, critics also point out that the U.S. still does not have a plan for the disposal of radioactive nuclear waste. The federal government is looking for ways to permanently dispose the waste and the waste is to this date is stored at the facilities.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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