NRC approves first new nuclear plants in 30 years

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Thursday it will issue licenses for the first U.S. nuclear reactors in a generation.

The NRC said it expects to issue combined construction and operating licenses for two new reactors at the Vogtle plant near Augusta, Ga., within 10 days. Site preparation is already under way on the $14 billion project by a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co.

Shaw's Power Group, headquartered in Charlotte, shares a contract with Westinghouse Electric to build the Vogtle additions. They also will build a $9.8 billion, two-reactor AP1000 addition to the Summer plant, northwest of Columbia, which is also expected to be licensed soon.

Shaw Group chairman J.M. Bernhard Jr., in a statement, called the NRC approval a "historic project" that will create thousands of jobs. Shaw expects to hire 3,500 employees during Vogtle's construction, he said.

Summer is co-owned by S.C. Electric & Gas and the state-owned utility Santee Cooper.

No new U.S. nuclear plant has been licensed for construction since 1978.

Nine anti-nuclear groups, including North Carolina's Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and the N.C Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, said Wednesday they will ask the NRC to delay the Vogtle license so they can file a challenge in federal court.

The advocacy group Public Citizen called it "inexplicable that we've chosen this moment in history to expand the use of a failed and dangerous technology," less than a year after the meltdown at Japan's Fukushima nuclear complex.

Industry groups applauded the NRC's approval of the Vogtle licenses.

Edison Electric Institute called the decision "a crucial step in revitalizing the role that nuclear power plays in the U.S. energy portfolio."

Vogtle will use Westinghouse Electric's AP1000 reactor, a new design that would shut down without electricity or human intervention during accidents. The NRC certified the design in December.

Duke Energy also plans to use the AP1000 at its proposed Lee nuclear plant near Gaffney, S.C. Duke expects to get a combined license for Lee in 2013. If Duke goes forward with the plant, it would open in about 2021.

Duke has spent $261 million in pre-development costs for Lee, it reported to the N.C. Utilities Commission last week. Duke has said it expects to spend $455 million on those costs through the end of 2013.

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