Opponents of Southern Co. (SO:US)’s plan to build two nuclear power plants in Georgia asked a court to block a license for the project granted by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The NRC on April 16 denied a request by nine environmental groups that it halt construction at the two reactors, setting the stage for yesterday’s filing with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
The agency approved the license on Feb. 9 by a 4-1 vote. The environmental groups initially asked the appeals court to review and then reject the permit in a petition filed with that court on March 20.
“Issuance of a stay is in the public interest,” the groups said in their filing yesterday, arguing the NRC failed to fully consider lessons learned from Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant disaster caused by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“A majority of the commissioners conceded that ‘the Fukushima events were significant, warranting enhancements in safety measures,’” the environmental groups said. The commissioners made no commitment to implement recommendations made by a task force they appointed to study the accident in Japan, the groups said.
‘Respond in Court’
“We will respond in court at the appropriate time and believe the agency position is sound,” Eliot Brenner, an NRC spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Southern, said the environmental groups’ criticism of the NRC’s order is unfounded.
“We are confident that the agency fully complied with federal regulatory requirements in approving and issuing the license, including an analysis of the environmental impacts of severe accidents, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods,” he said yesterday in an e-mailed statement
The environmental groups failed to show that building the new units at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, about 179 miles (288 kilometers) from Atlanta, would irreparably harm the environment, the NRC said in its April 16 order denying their request to delay construction.
The alleged environmental impacts of building the reactors, as opposed to operating them, aren’t related to the lessons learned from the Fukushima incident, the commission said.
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko opposed granting Southern licenses for the units because the company wasn’t asked to implement upgrades that may be required of U.S. plants in response to Fukushima.
“I simply cannot ignore what happened at Fukushima,” he said in a statement after the 4-1 vote on Feb. 9. On April 16, he voted with his colleagues to allow construction to go forward at Vogtle.
“Given that these licenses have been issued, I concur with the general analysis of my colleagues” that the environmental groups “have not satisfied the standard” to cause the commission to delay construction, he said then.
The case is Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 12-1151, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Washington).
To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org; Brian Wingfield in Washington at email@example.com; Tom Schoenberg in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com; Jon Morgan at firstname.lastname@example.org