Federal regulators approved on Thursday the first operating license for a nuclear plant in 30 years. In so doing, they strengthened Progress Energy's bid to build two nuclear reactors in Levy County.
In a 4-to-1 decision, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed Southern Co. to construct and operate two new Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at its existing nuclear complex about 170 miles east of Atlanta.
Progress Energy Florida wants to use the same Westinghouse design to build reactors on a 3,000 acre site in Levy County. Progress is in the second tier of utilities, behind Southern Co. and South Carolina Electric & Gas, awaiting NRC approval of operating licenses.
Progress expects to receive its license by 2014. But the utility has slowed its construction efforts, repeatedly delaying start dates for the project, now estimated to cost $22.5 billion. The plant is not expected to come online for at least a decade.
Progress recently negotiated an agreement that would allow it to cancel the engineering, procurement and construction contract for the Levy project. The action comes as the price of nuclear plants continues to rise.
Nuclear power proponents see the Georgia nuclear project as a key to the start of a "Nuclear Renaissance" in the United States. But new nuclear projects have also raised questions about safety after the meltdown of Fukushima nuclear plants last year in Japan.
Gregory B. Jaczko, the commission chairman, opposed Thursday's approval of Southern's license, saying he believed the project needed "significant safety enhancements."
Commissioner William C. Ostendorff called the decision "historic" and said he believed the commission staff's study of the safety concerns "have given me great confidence that their review has been sufficient."
Opponents of the nuclear projects wanted the commission to delay the vote to allow more study on the AP1000's safety. They plan to take their battle to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., next week to block any further movement on the Georgia project.
Ivan Penn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2332.