The Southern Company just got a thumbs up from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to move forward on construction of the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in 30 years. The dueling reactors will be built at Plant Vogtle outside of Atlanta, Georgia and will round their set of reactors from two up to four. The company obtained their Combined Construction and Operating License (COL) yesterday and expect the first new reactor to be on-line in 2016.
This development comes at a time when nuclear power has been anything but championed. In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, nations like Germany and Italy have vowed to reduce all dependency on nuclear reactors and many in Japan are asking for the same move. In addition to being scared out of our wits that a nuclear power plant near us was going to become unstable, we’ve found real foundations for those fears in research by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that many U.S. nuclear plants aren’t up to code to withstand a disaster like what occurred in Fukushima.
So as these two new 1,100-megawatt Vogtle reactors are raised we are right to be wary of their safety and hope that they are being built with the utmost of care. Though nuclear energy is not a renewable resource — fuel rods become unusable and must be safely stored when they are spent — it is a low-emissions resource that helps to reduce our dependency on dirty fossil fuels and cuts our carbon output, as well. Built safely it could be part of a winning strategy to beat climate change and after this year’s fiasco in Japan, we all now know the dangers it holds.