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Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves first new plant in over 30 years

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) [official website; press release] voted Thursday to issue the first US license for a new nuclear power plant in over 30 years. In a 4-1 vote the NRC approved an application by Southern Company [corporate website] for an issuance of two Combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COL), the first such licenses ever approved for a US nuclear plant. The lone dissenting vote was cast by NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko [official profile], who cited environmental concerns similar to those surrounding the fallout from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster [IAEA backgrounder]. Each COL authorizes a new reactor unit at the Waynesboro, GA, Vogtle Electric Generating Plant [corporate website], which began commercial operation of its two existing reactors in the late 1980s. Following the NRC vote the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) [official website] unanimously approved the costs projected by Southern subsidiary Georgia Power [corporate website; press release], whose construction costs for the new Vogtle units are monitored by the PSC via monthly filings and semiannual construction monitoring reports. No nuclear power plants have been licensed in the US [Reuters report] since the partial meltdown of the reactor core of the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. Georgia Power hopes to have Vogtle Units 3 and 4 running by 2016 and 2017 respectively.

International reception to nuclear energy has fallen sharply since the the Fukushima disaster. The incident is now considered one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters of all time and the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. In September Laura Frano, a certified legal intern at the University of Pittsburgh Environmental Law Clinic, wrote about the growing popularity of natural gas [JURIST commentary] and other energy sources in the wake of environmental catastrophes like Fukushima and the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [JURIST news archive]. In July the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] dismissed a lawsuit to force nuclear waste storage [JURIST report] at Yucca Mountain. In May the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] upheld the NRC decision to renew the license of the oldest US nuclear plant [JURIST report]. Nevertheless the Fukushima incident has sparked ongoing concern over nuclear policies and their affect on the environment, as Tamar Cerafici of the Cerafici Law Firm noted in April in her call for a coherent US energy policy [JURIST op-ed] that pays more than a begrudging acceptance of nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

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