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US to Build New N-Reactors despite Woes

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TEHRAN, May 9 (ICANA) – For the first time in more than three decades, the construction of new nuclear reactors is underway in the United States despite the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima in Japan.
Monday, May 09, 2011 6:49:41 PM
US to Build New N-Reactors despite Woes

The construction of new reactors in the United States has stalled since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Two new projects, from Southern Co's Georgia Power unit and SCANA Corp's South Carolina Electric & Gas Co unit are on track to receive the combined construction permit and operating licenses (COL) from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), possibly before the end of 2011, reports indicate.

Both companies want to add two of Westinghouse Electric's 1,154-megawatt AP1000 reactors at existing nuclear power sites: Southern's Vogtle plant in Georgia and SCANA's Summer plant in South Carolina.

In the past, nuclear operators had to apply for a license to build the reactors and later apply another license to operate it.

The combined operating license includes a certified nuclear plant design that is likely to be more than 90 percent complete when construction begins, as well as an early site permit, which is effectively an environmental review.

Now, as most of the country's 104 aging reactors are applying for, and receiving, 20-year extensions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on their original 40-year licenses, reform advocates say a thorough review of the system is urgently needed.

The agency's shortcomings are especially vexing because Congress created it in the mid-1970s to separate the government's roles as safety regulator and promoter of nuclear energy -- a conflict that dogged its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

Critics have long painted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as weak and incapable of keeping close tabs on an industry to which it remains closely tied. The concerns have greater urgency because of the crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan, which many experts say they suspect was caused as much by lax government oversight as by a natural disaster.

The agency has little choice but to tolerate violations, said Lochbaum, who heads the Nuclear Safety Project with the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and nuclear watchdog group based in Cambridge, Mass. "Otherwise, nearly all the U.S. reactors would have to shut down," he said.

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