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Despite Lingering Safety Concerns, Federal Regulators Sign Off on New Reactors in Georgia

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to greenlight the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in more than 30 years. The two new reactors will be based outside of Augusta at Plant Vogtle, which is already home to two existing nuclear units. 

At a press conference after the vote, Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning said the $14 billion dollar project will bring more than 5,000 jobs to the region 

“These two new units will set the standard for safety and efficiency in the nuclear industry in America,” said Fanning. 

The first unit is expected to be operational in 2016. 

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko’s lone dissenting vote took many by surprise. He said in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan he had not received enough assurance from Southern Company that new safety measures would be adopted. 

In response, officials for Southern Company and its subsidiary Georgia Power cited a federal report issued after Fukushima that said the design for the two new units passed all safety requirements. 

“It specifically stated that this plant had all the attributes in that the procedures should go forward,” said Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers. “The other four commissioners affirmed that – again, that this has been a thorough, complete process and that this is something they can be proud of.” 

Not everyone is convinced. Stephen Smith of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said it’s still too early to take in all the lessons from Fukushima. 

“I think it shows the reckless approach of Southern Company to rush this thing forward,” said Smith. “They’re still struggling with the reactor over at Fukushima literally the rubble over there hasn’t cooled down.”

Smith’s organization and eight others are filing legal action with the NRC to halt the project.