There are no environmental impacts that would prevent Southern Nuclear Operating Co from gaining an Early Site Permit (ESP) for its Vogtle site in Georgia, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has concluded.
|The future look of the Vogtle site? (Image: Southern)
An ESP confirms in principle that a site is suitable for the possible future construction and operation of a new nuclear power plant, and enables a company to complete a vital part of the planning permission process before committing to the large capital outlay required to build a new plant. The permits are valid for 20 years, allowing the company - or any other potential applicant interested in the site - to apply for a combined construction and operation licence (COL). A COL must be issued for the site before any significant construction can occur.
Southern Nuclear submitted its application to the NRC for an ESP for Vogtle on 15 August 2006. The company has also applied to the NRC for a COL for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors on the Vogtle site. The Vogtle site currently houses two PWRs, which started operation in 1987 and 1989. Together these Westinghouse-design units produce 2300 MWe.
The NRC said that there are three primary issues - site safety, environmental impacts, and emergency planning - that must be addressed in the ESP application. In its review of the application, the NRC assessed Southern's proposal in relation to these issues to determine if the application meets the requirements of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the NRC regulations.
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) addresses the potential environmental impacts resulting from the construction and operation of two new units at the Vogtle site. It includes the NRC's analysis that considers and weighs the environmental impacts of new reactors at the site or at alternative sites, and mitigation measures available for reducing or avoiding adverse impacts.
The NRC staff recommendation to the commission related to the environmental aspects of the proposed action is that the ESP should be issued as proposed. The staff evaluation of the site safety and emergency preparedness aspects of the proposed action will be addressed in a safety evaluation report, anticipated to be published in February 2009.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) must also conclude a hearing on the Vogtle ESP application before the NRC's final decision, which is currently expected by late 2009.
So far, the NRC has issued three ESPs: for Exelon's Clinton site in Illinois; Entergy's Grand Gulf site in Mississippi; and Dominion's North Anna site in Virginia.