Welcome mat still out for new U.S. nuclear plants

ATLANTA Fri Mar 18, 2011 5:12pm EDT

ATLANTA (Reuters) - For much of the world, Japan's nuclear crisis has heightened concerns about nuclear power. But in the U.S. Southeast, where the next set of reactors are planned, the concerns are not so great.

Even environmental activists -- those with deep-seated reservations about nuclear safety who say events in Japan provide an opening to change opinions [ID:nL3E7EI251] -- do not anticipate a radical shift.

No reactors have been commissioned in the United States since the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in which a reactor suffered a partial meltdown.

The next four are due to come online in Georgia and South Carolina between 2016 and 2019, pending regulatory approval, in a region that is one of the country's most conservative.

As a result, powerful utility companies play an out-sized role in shaping public debate and defusing potential opposition from lawmakers, activists said.

"The industry has done an excellent job of convincing people that serious accidents like this could not happen and the American public has developed amnesia about the real safety concerns," said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

"There is a lot of really true believers (in nuclear energy) here that are going to resist internalizing and contemplating the full implications of what's happening in Japan," he said in an interview.

The complexity and the slowness of the regulatory process also served to mute public concerns, some environmentalists said.

President Barack Obama said nuclear energy remains part of the U.S. energy strategy and that studies show U.S. nuclear power plants, which provide about 20 percent of the nation's power, are safe. The U.S. nuclear industry has said it is taking steps to protect plants from a catastrophe like the one in Japan.

Nuclear power is a significant part of the energy mix in Georgia, where it represents about 11 percent of total electric capacity, and South Carolina, where it contributes 50 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

"This is an opportunity for those who find anything nuclear problematic," said Susan Shaer, executive director of Women's Action for New Directions, a group that seeks to direct federal spending away from the military and toward issues such as education.

She said it was up to government to take a closer look at safety of what she called a "very dangerous commodity."

MOVING FORWARD

Public utilities in the South have responded in different ways to the challenge presented by Japan, where authorities are battling to avert disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, crippled in an earthquake and tsunami last week.

"We are still committed to moving forward at the same pace," said Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for Southern Company, adding that Southern supports a review of its existing nuclear units to incorporate lessons from Japan.

Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the company, hopes for approval from the National Regulatory Commission to build two reactors at its Vogtle plant in Georgia using Westinghouse's AP1000 design to come online in 2016 and 2017.

SCANA Corp also hopes to use the same design for two reactors at its VC Summer nuclear station northwest of South Carolina's capital to be running by 2016 and 2019.

"Our intent is to remain on schedule," SCANA President Kevin Marsh told reporters this week.

Tom Clements, a nuclear expert with Friends of the Earth, South Carolina, described Marsh's comments as "stunning" and said the companies should put its license applications on hold while they absorb the lessons of Japan.

But there was no guarantee that any rise in public concern because of Japan would result in opposition to the new plants in part because the approval and finance process was complicated, Clements and other activists said.

Eighty percent of respondents in the South to a survey conducted in June 2010 by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry body, said it would be acceptable to build a reactor close to an operating nuclear plant.

John Besley, a professor at the University of South Carolina, said the findings were broadly in line with the results of surveys he has commissioned in his state, although he cautioned there was no fresh opinion data post-Japan.

"We are getting further away from the era where nuclear disarmament and the baggage of the nuclear industry were in the news. Climate change ... provides an argument for why nuclear might be an option," Besley said.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

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Comments (5)
Solman wrote:
Monday morning I will be selling my bonds for Georgia Power and Alabama Power, both subsidiaries of Southern Company, who I now view after reading this statement as inconsiderate of their investors, and arrogant and reckless in their pursuit of nuclear power. I doubt they will be able to pay the interest after they get involved in building the nuclear plants, and they sure won’t be able to pay if they have to pay for clean up of an accident.

Doesn’t anybody think ahead? When these plants have to be decommissioned and torn down for disposal in 50-100 years does anybody believe that there will be enough cheap energy to do the job right and dispose of the waste? The sun will be here forever. Southern Company needs more solar NOW which will provide power immediately with no risk of accident or financial failure. I have worked with the Japanese before. As a people their attention to detail and quality control are beyond compare, and yet there has been an incredible accident because they were calmed into believing that nothing this bad could happen to their nuclear reactors. It sort of reminds one of the now forgotten Deep Water Horizon. Why weren’t better plans in place in both situations? Because people just won’t face the facts if it costs a little more.

Mar 18, 2011 5:48pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jamberry28 wrote:
Professor Besley is correct. Nuclear power plants generate no CO2. Gotta reduce that dangerous CO2; its acidic you know.

I support the Southern Company and its subsidiaries in building Westinghouse designed A1000. Solar and wind are not good options in the the southeastern US. See why way below. And coal from western Kentucky and West Virgina is becoming more expensive and dangerous to mine. Coal mines have to go deeper thus more dangerous and expensive. And request for new mining permits have been rejected by the administration further driving up cost.

Neither solar nor wind are considered baseline solutions with up times of only 17% at best. Coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants are baseline.

Thus both solar and wind power plants rated 1000 megawatts would have to have backup generators rate at 1000 megawatts. These generators would be either natural gas or coal.

So why build solar or wind power plants if you need a standard baseline power plant too? Great PR and easy of getting a gas or a coal plant built.

In addition a government power will pay the utility company big bucks to be green
and offset much of the cost of the wind or solar power plant; the lost looser.

Big Oil owns much of the natural gas and coal rights so they support solar and wind power especially if the get government incentives. Old Oil money pays for green PR and lobbies hard for solar and wind incentives.

Nonprofit green organizations support natural gas and have bought natural gas company share and mutual funds. They have and will reap a profit anytime a solar or wind power plant gets approve.

Note: Why solar or wind power plants not a good option.
Because the wind does blow strong enough nor often enough around here and the sun would not shine enough for a solar plant; too much rain and cloudy weather. And every so often (2-5) years a solar plant might get too much wind, gust of 70mph, and be blown away.

Mar 18, 2011 9:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
jamberry28 wrote:
This is a reply to Solman comment.
Its hard to assign risks. Some bright people get educated to do risk assessments and companies like the Southern Company acting in due diligence hire them for their skill and knowledge in that area.
I don’t believe you own any bonds to sell. I don’t believe you have much logical thanking in your head. The Southern Company’s bill of material to build the A1000 include millions if not a billion for litigation and insurance if the pre approved A1000 has an accident. The A1000 have 20-30 years research and design improvements and TIME. The A1000 may have 200 man years of time of thinking. So yes lots of bodies are thanking except you.

Finally no one died at Three Mile Island and no one has died at Fukushima. 10000 may have died due to the tsunami.

Mar 18, 2011 10:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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