The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a Limited Work Authorization (LWA) to Southern Nuclear Operating Company to begin preparing for the construction of two Westinghouse AP-1000 nuclear power plants. The LWA came on the heels of the NRC’s decision to issue an Early Site Permit (the fourth ESP for a nuclear power plant issued so far) declaring that the Vogtle site, which already hosts two 1215 MWe Westinghouse Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR), could support the construction and operating of two additional units without significant additional safety or environmental impacts.
The decision to issue the LWA and ESP at Vogtle has been widely anticipated for about a week, ever since the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued a 165 page ruling indicating that the staff reviews had provided sufficient reason to allow the Commission to approve the permits.
Obtaining permission to begin site preparation work at Vogtle is a big deal – it represents the first time in more than 30 years that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given permission to begin work on a new nuclear power plant. Unlike the previous recipients of ESP’s (Exelon, Dominion Resources, and Entergy), Southern Nuclear Operating Company is not “banking” its site for future work. The company has already contracted with Shaw Group and Westinghouse and issued a notice to proceed allowing them to begin assembling work crews.
There is still one big hurdle left before Southern Nuclear Operating Company can begin nuclear plant construction by pouring the first safety related concrete. That last step, the completion of the Construction and Operating License review process is currently on track for sometime in 2011, assuming that all goes well with the review process. The COL review for Vogtle units 3 and 4 began at the end of March 2008 with the delivery of the license application to the NRC. The NRC reviewed the application for completeness and then officially “docketed” it at the end of May 2008.
Southern Nuclear Operating Company has an excellent reputation as a company that quietly goes about completing the jobs that it undertakes, and that reputation dates back to a time before the group became Southern Nuclear. I clearly remember a day in the early 1970s when I was just learning about business and investing. Dad explained to me that he had just purchased 100 shares of Georgia Power Company because of their excellent reputation in the power industry and because the company was partnering with FPL to build plants that would be supplying the booming South Florida markets through the transmission lines that my dad’s Transmission Substation group was building.
This milestone is just one more indication that the nuclear power plant construction industry is waking up in the United States and is making progress on the lengthy path towards completion of new, emission-free, reliable power plants that can provide affordable electricity for many decades to come.
As one might expect, this large project does not bring unanimous cheering. The Atlanta Progressive News, while not completely negative has expressed concerns about the cost and the moderate construction work in progress rate increases that have already been approved by the Georgia General Assembly. Honest questioning is understandable, especially since there has been so much misinformation and disinformation published about nuclear energy for so many years.
Speaking of that kind of “information”, I have just learned that the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) is hosting a telephone call today, August 27, 2009 at 1:30 pm on the topic of delayed nuclear power projects. If you have time to listen in, the number is 800-860-2442. If you happen to record the session, let me know.