NRC Panel Requires Waste Storage Plan for New Reactors

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s three-judge panel told Georgia utilities in early March that their application to build more nuclear reactors at Southern Company's Plant Vogtle was incomplete. The application failed to consider how radioactive nuclear waste would be managed if a storage site remains unavailable when the new reactors begin operation. The plant is located along the Savannah River near Augusta, Ga.

According to a March 10 press release from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), the panel said a long-term storage plan must be developed before the federal agency can issue a permit to build the proposed nuclear reactors.

"Radioactive waste storage in Burke County puts our people's lives at risk. It's an injustice," said Rev. Charles Utley, pastor of a church in Waynesboro within view of Plant Vogtle and a community organizer for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

"Utilities should instead build clean, safe, and affordable energy solutions such as wind, solar, tidal, and biopower that don’t pose these risks," commented Sara Barczak, SACE program director.

A number of citizen groups filed a petition in November 2008 to intervene on behalf of their members with the NRC. The Emory University School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic, along with attorney Diane Curran of Washington, D.C., are representing the organizations.

Georgia utilities are pursing a combined construction and operating license to construct and build two new nuclear reactors at the plant. Southern Company’s nuclear division, Southern Nuclear Operating Company, filed for the permit in March 2008 on behalf of the plant’s owners, Georgia Power (a subsidiary of the Southern Company), Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power), and Dalton Utilities.

A challenge by the same organizations to an earlier component of the licensing and permitting process, the early site permit, has been under way since 2006. That challenge is based on the failure of Southern Nuclear’s license application to appropriately consider the effects of the two new reactors on the Savannah River basin.