Nuclear plant still on track

Photo by Heather Meadows

Photo by Heather Meadows

COVINGTON -- The groundbreaking for two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle that the city of Covington is investing more than $160 million in will not be delayed due to a potential meltdown in Japan, a spokesman said this week.

Southern Co., a subsidiary of Georgia Power, and its partners, including the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia of which Covington is a member, are seeking to build two Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will decide whether to approve the project this summer. The units are slated to be in operation in 2016 and 2017.

"We do not anticipate that events in Japan will impact our construction schedule or our ability to stay on budget," Southern Co. Spokesman Todd Terrell told the Associated Press.

Southern Co. reported this week that none of its component fabrication facilities in Japan were damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. A shipment of components is expected this year from Yokohama harbor, which was unscathed by the earthquake.

As Japan tries to stabilize nuclear reactors following the natural disasters, concerns over the safety of nuclear energy have mounted.

Southern Co. issued a statement that its plants are designed, licensed and built to endure environmental hazards and disasters and meet Nuclear Regulation Commission requirements.

"The potential for an earthquake at Vogtle is significantly lower than in Japan, and the magnitude of any earthquake is likewise much lower. The Vogtle site was evaluated for the most severe earthquake that might occur once in a 10,000-year period. The ... design greatly exceeds that requirement for the Vogtle site," the statement said.

Terrell said the AP1000 reactor picked for use in Georgia improves on use, including a cooling system that can operate without electricity for three days, relying on gravity and evaporation. Japan's nuclear reactors lost use of generators powering backup cooling equipment.

The reactors are the first in the nation in decades, after the nuclear industry stalled due to the accident at Three Mile Island and a weak economy.

President Barack Obama's administration previously promised about $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to help finance the estimated $14 billion Plant Vogtle project.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has called on Obama to put funding on hold and declare a moratorium on new reactors.

"We don't say nuclear power is inherently unsafe, but we do say it's inherently unforgiving. When you start having situations like what you're seeing in Japan, they spin out of control very quickly," Stephen Smith, Southern Alliance executive director, told the Associated Press. "What we'd like to see happen is there needs to be a very thorough review of all the redundancies that have broken down clearly in the Japanese situation."

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman said the safety review for the reactor and the plant has not been put on hold. The commission will review information from Japan to determine implications on existing and new reactors in America, the spokesman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.