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Environmentalists to Contest NRC License for Southern’s Reactors

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A group of 12 environmental groups said it will file a court challenge to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision approving Southern Co.’s two new reactors in Georgia.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and 11 other consumer and environmental groups said today they will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to block the license awarded last week because regulators failed to fully consider the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in Japan last year.

The NRC “violated federal environmental law” when it issued the permit, Mindy Goldstein, acting director for the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law and an attorney for the groups, said on a conference call with reporters. “The environment will be irreparably harmed if construction is allowed to proceed.”

The NRC voted 4-1 on Feb. 9 to let Atlanta-based Southern build and operate the reactors at the Vogtle plant near Augusta, Georgia. The agency issued a permit the next day. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko dissented.

The regulator should complete a new environmental analysis for the Southern reactors, the groups said in their statement. The $14 billion Vogtle project in 2010 was awarded conditional approval for an $8.3 billion Energy Department loan guarantee.

If upgrades to the units are needed after the NRC issues Fukushima-related safety rules, U.S. taxpayers and utility customers in Georgia “bear the burden of the increased costs,” Goldstein said.

‘Detailed, Rigorous’

“The NRC devoted tens of thousands of hours over four years to a detailed, rigorous safety and environmental review of the application,” Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman, said in an e-mail. Environmental groups weighed in and the NRC has a “strong basis of evidence” should a court decide to review the commission’s approval of the license, he said.

The review was “thorough, thoughtful and detailed” and the company is “confident that the agency fully complied with federal regulatory requirements in approving and issuing the license and see no cause to delay construction,” Steve Higginbottom, a Southern spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The group said it would file the court challenge later today.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net; Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net

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