2012 is an historic year for nuclear power, with the first new reactors gaining U.S. government approval in almost 35 years. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission - NRC – has approved the first nuclear reactors to be built in the U.S. since 1978. The NRC voted 4-1 in favour of Southern Company building two new nuclear reactors at an existing Georgia plant. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko voted against, expressing concern that the licence was being approved “as if Fukushima never happened”. The reactors are expected to cost $US14 billion/£8.8 billion and could begin operating as early as 2016. No reactors have been approved for construction since a year before the accident at Three Mile Island, a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, in 1979.
Some have seen the approval of the Southern Company’s two Westinghouse AP-1000 reactors – to be built in Georgia – as the start of a revival of nuclear power in the West, but this may be a false dawn because of the problems besetting conventional reactors. Safety concerns around nuclear power have risen following a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami cut the plant off from the power grid. In the wake of the Japanese disaster the commission launched a review into whether existing and new US reactors could withstand natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. It may be that when a new boom in nuclear power comes, it won’t be led by giant gigawatt installations, but by batteries of small modular reactors – SMRs – with very different principles from reactors of past generations. Read the full article »»»»