Opponents of Southern Co. (SO)’s plan to build two nuclear reactors in Georgia failed to persuade a federal appeals court to revoke the license and reactor-design certification granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today rejected arguments by nine environmental groups that the commission didn’t fully consider the lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant disaster before approving the $14 billion project at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant.
“NRC thoroughly analyzed the environmental consequences of severe accidents for Vogtle,” U.S. Circuit Judge Harry Edwards wrote in the decision.
The environmental groups sued after the commission last year denied a request to delay construction. The regulator ruled that the opponents failed to show building the new units at the Vogtle plant, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) from Atlanta, would irreparably harm the environment.
The alleged environmental impacts of building the reactors, as opposed to operating them, aren’t related to the lessons learned from the Fukushima events, which were caused by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the commission said in its April 16, 2012, order.
Then-NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko opposed granting Southern licenses for the units because the company wasn’t asked to implement upgrades that may be required of U.S. plants in response to Fukushima.
“I simply cannot ignore what happened at Fukushima,” he said in a statement after the 4-1 vote on Feb. 9, 2012. Two months later, he voted with his colleagues to allow construction at Vogtle to go forward.
Edwards said Jaczko didn’t contend that there were any shortcomings of the Vogtle project or need for review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
A spokesman for Georgia Power, the Southern Co. unit that owns about 45 percent of the project, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
The NRC didn’t have a comment on the court’s ruling, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said in a phone interview. The agency continues to monitor the construction of reactors by Southern Co. in Georgia and Scana Corp. in South Carolina “to ensure they’re meeting all the relevant requirements,” he said.
The environmental groups that brought the challenge include the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Friends of the Earth Inc. and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Mindy Goldstein, director for the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law and an attorney for the groups, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail message seeking comment on the ruling.
The Georgia reactors, the first U.S. nuclear construction licensed since the Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident in 1979, were forecast to lead to a resurgence of the U.S. nuclear industry.
The renaissance has fizzled as a wave of cheap natural gas, government-subsidized wind and solar energy and falling consumer demand have challenged the economics of nuclear monoliths built to operate for 60 years or more.
Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), the largest U.S. power company by market value, earlier this month suspended plans to build twin nuclear units on its Harris site in Wake County, North Carolina, citing “slower growth” in electricity consumption.
The cases are Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 12-1106, 12-1151, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Washington).
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