NRC Approves Vogtle License, Chairman Only Vote for Safety

Jaczko says he can't proceed as if "Fukushima never happened." | AP Photo

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4 to 1 today to issue the Combined Operating License for Vogtle units 3 and 4 near Augusta, Georgia. This is the first license to be approved in the United States in over 30 years. During the brief affirmation session today Chairman Gregory Jaczko firmly dissented and said:

“There are significant safety enhancements that have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima, and there’s still more work ahead of us…Knowing this, I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”

Chairman Jaczko seems to be the only Commissioner to take heed to the fact that the NRC is still working through the lessons learned from Fukushima and the recommendations made by their Near Term Task Force last July. He made mention of another vote last December in which he also stood alone, when his four fellow Commissioners rejected a recommendation made by the NRC’s Near-Term Task Force to consider all the post-Fukushima safety upgrades to be mandatory for the “adequate protection” of nuclear power plants, dismissing the recommendation as “premature.”

This mentality of the Commission majority seems to defy logic. It seems more accurate to say that the Commission is premature in its vote to approve this license before all lessons from Fukushima can be analyzed in how they could affect the design and operation of the new reactors. As nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen says, “It is so much easier to change a drawing on a computer than to modify a design after the plant is constructed. A ten dollar modification on a computer now, can save a ten million dollar modification down the road, if you have to rip out concrete and do it over. This will increase the cost to the ratepayers.”

Representative Ed Markey (Democrat-Mass.), senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee focused on safety in his response to the NRC’s vote, saying:

“Today, the NRC abdicated its duty to protect public health and safety, just to make construction faster and cheaper for the nuclear industry. While four NRC Commissioners continue to slow-walk the implementation of the Fukushima safety upgrades, today they have fast-tracked the construction of two nuclear reactors whose shield building could ‘shatter like a glass cup’ if impacted by an earthquake or other natural or man-made impact. Rather than ushering in the so-called nuclear renaissance, today’s vote demonstrates that the NRC is still stuck in the nuclear safety Dark Ages.”

Together with our allies, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy continues to challenge the license for the Vogtle reactors. Our challenge maintains that the NRC is violating federal law by issuing the license without fully considering the important lessons of the catastrophic Fukushima accident in Japan. Without knowing how these lessons impact the Vogtle operation, how can the NRC fulfill its mission to protect public safety and the environment? We will ask federal judges to order the NRC to prepare a new environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Vogtle reactors that explains how cooling systems for the reactors and spent fuel storage pools will be upgraded to protect against earthquakes, flooding and prolonged loss of electric power to the site.  Please see our recent press release for more information on the legal challenge.

This blog was authored by Mandy Hancock, our high risk energy choices organizer.

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I live in California we have had several nuclear power plants operating for many years. So far so good. However, the Diablo Canyon plant has recently had an independent inspection and an analysis of the ground faults in the area that could affect the plant. The ‘Songs’ power plant in Southern California is on the beach. Could we experience a Tsunami ? Maybe. Could we experience an epic earthquake? Maybe. My main concern is that the regulators really,,, I mean REALLY, look at ALL of the possibilities and address them. I have mixed emotions on nuclear power. It is clean and cheap but, what will happen to all the waste? How will we deal with this in the future? I am all for getting off the oil train and becoming independent. But at what cost? If we are to allow more nuclear power, we need to invest in sustainable clean energy. My fear is that if we start relying on nuclear power that we will abandon the research needed to use alternative energy. I can see using nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel only if alternative fuel is pursued vigorously with a sunset date on nuclear power. New plants, like the one in Georgia, should be held to a very high level of safety. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

Comment by jim buster on February 9, 2012 9:03 pm

This news of approval for 2 new nuclear reactors is totally bewildering: We haven’t yet learned the lessons of Fukushima unless you’re a simpleton who says the lesson is don’t build on the coast thereby subjecting your plant to a tsunami wave, or don’t put your backup generators in a basement that can be flooded.

Fukushima is an ongoing nuclear disaster: One guy lives in the 20 mile dead zone around the damaged reactors, and he’s there because he wants to tend to the abandoned farm animals and isn’t worried about dying himself.
Tepco officials have hired 18,000 temporary workers who quickly reach exposure limits to contain and restrict the radiation damage. Many thousands of gallons of radiated water are needing to be treated from attempts to cool reactor vessels.
Radiation from Fukushima has reached the west coast following the air currents that circulate from west to east.
No one wants to have to think about what a Fukushima type disaster would do to business, tourism, fishing, hiking in our beautiful southeast. Nuclear power is just not worth the risks.

The lesson of Fukushima is stop this nuclear madness; we already have thousands of years of nuclear waste to manage, we don’t need more: We need to move on to truly clean renewable energy resources, and we need to do it now, not step back into the dirty energy past.

Comment by billy on February 10, 2012 1:05 am

As a Christian, a Conservative and a Mother in a TWO PARENT FAMILY, I am against overreaching nuclear regulations based on fears if science not fears of God! Earthquakes and tsunamis DONT HAPPEN IN GEORGIA! The Mississippi earthquake zone is really far from Georgia but God is a lot closer. Why don’t liberals fear God? Liberals say nuclear is more expensive than solar when you add in subsidies, insurance and waste storage. But so is Amtrak! But the liberals want you to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” while roads and airports pay for themselves with gas taxes and user fees. It’s time to get rid of liberal regulation so we can have enough power to keep the lights on for our families even when the sun doesn’t shine! (liberals think they can magically just store solar power at night in their 9 volt batteries)

Comment by Paris Palin on February 10, 2012 4:06 pm

As a conservative Christian and mother of a two parent family (how that is relevent is unclear) I am a little concerned with knee jerk statements with out much fact. I am not an energy activist. I do believe, however, that God would want us to use the resources provided to us naturally, rather than tearing up His earth and making His people sick to create something we already have available. The idea that Ga cannot be affected by an earthquake is obviously a very poorly researched opinion. Just type “earthquakes in Ga” into the search engine of your choice.I did and found a site called “ourgahistory”. It lists 12 either that either originated in the state or were felt throughout the state because of one occurring in a neighboring state, since 1812. The most recent registering a 4.9 was in Menlo Ga , on April 29, 2003.
I have plenty of opinions about liberal vs conservative. I do think that it is wise to get into debates based solely on my opinion. People respond to informed opinions.

Comment by michelle on February 10, 2012 5:11 pm

Obviously I meant “I don’t think it is wise….”

Comment by michelle on February 10, 2012 5:23 pm

What’s not obvious to me is how you can call yourself Christian, Conservative and a mother of a two parent family and NOT see this is a liberal vs conservative issue? They have been trying to act like the materials in a solar panel are “natural” and uranium isn’t! Their solar materials are just as toxic and dangerous as a nuclear accident, actually MORE, because they don’t have warning labels! Who do you think recycles all the dead solar panels and hybrid batteries by melting them down in open pits? The liberals hiding behind their Apple computers? No! it’s little kids in China! Why don’t they care about that? Nobody ever died recycling a nuclear plant.

Comment by Paris Palin on February 13, 2012 10:59 pm

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