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City firm on nuclear investment

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- With the debate over the safety of nuclear energy still raging following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and subsequent threat of a nuclear meltdown, the city of Covington remains committed to investing more than $160 million in two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle.

"I continue to believe that nuclear power is the best currently available technology to provide a greener path to the future," said Covington Utilities Director Bill Meecham. "Like all energy technologies, safety practices need to be followed and the history in Georgia indicates that they have been. Although coal is still a viable source of power generation, and I expect it to be for some time, its cost will rise as additional technologies must be developed and applied to reduce emissions.

"While the current Congress doesn't seem to be ready to pass related legislation, as we know, the make-up of Congress can and does change," he said. "There are also regulatory agencies that could pass tighter regulations governing emissions and will do so if they think the political environment is favorable. Alternatives such as wind power are often discussed but are not a solution in all regions. They also cannot be depended upon to supply power on demand, which is essential to reliable electric service."

During the citizen comments portion of the Covington City Council meeting Monday night, Forrest Sawyer Jr. urged officials to rethink their investment in nuclear energy.

"There was no earthquake disaster at Three Mile Island," he said, referring to the partial meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in 1979.

He suggested the city take some of the $160 million and, "Let's go green."

"Let's look at solar panels in a deeper light. Nuclear energy is a hazard wherever it is at," Sawyer said. "Or, we could think about getting out of the energy business altogether and let the professionals run it, rather than sitting here and dumping $160 million over years, money that might not have any safeguards on it."

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will decide whether to approve the project at Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro, this summer. The units are slated to be in operation in 2016 and 2017.

The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, of which Covington is a member, states on its website that its nuclear facilities at Plant Hatch, near Baxley, and Plant Vogtle, are designed in accordance with Nuclear Regulation Commission requirements related to natural events such as earthquakes, flooding and hurricanes and can be safely shut down and maintained in shutdown status after such events. Procedures are in place should power loss occur on site or off site, according to MEAG.

Both plants are in areas deemed to be low activity zones for seismic activity but could withstand earthquake magnitudes of up to 7.0, according to MEAG. Also, the distance inland and elevation of both plants would protect them in the event of a tsunami, MEAG stated. Plant Hatch is 75 miles from the Atlantic coast and 130 feet above sea level, while Plant Vogtle is 130 miles from the coast and 220 feet above sea level.