The Agencies Align for Nuclear

Secretary Chu. Photo by NNSA News. Some rights reserved.

Last Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.’s construction of a nuclear reactor near Waynesboro, Georgia, the first new reactor to be approved since the 1978 construction of the Shearon Harris plant in North Carolina. (The Hill covers the approval in more detail here). The story of the next year’s accident at Three Mile Island and its drag on the nuclear industry has been well told, and in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, an Obama-mandated task force calling for sweeping improvements to the NRC’s “patchwork” of regulatory requirements threatened to extend what has been decades of regulatory delays. Combined with financing problems, the industry has struggled to build new reactors. On both fronts, this week’s developments point to good news for the industry.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group, touts NRC’s approval as recognition that nuclear energy can contribute to a low-carbon future and a diversified energy supply, while critics say that the project should face additional scrutiny and environmental review after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Those events have prompted the NRC to consider new rules to better protect the country’s 104 reactors from earthquakes and floods, but did not deter the Commission, which voted 4-1 in favor of approval. The Commission’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, was the lone dissenter, highlighting that reactor operators have made no assurances they will incorporate lessons learned from Fukushima into their operations.

The government also has an instrumental role in financing the new plant. The Energy Department announced this week that it is finalizing an $8.3 billion taxpayer-backed loan to build the reactors. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that though the project still has to meet a number of conditions, the loan is nearing final approval, as reported in this article from The Hill. No surprise to anyone following the story behind another government-backed loan to an alternative-energy company, that company’s subsequent bankruptcy, and a year-long House investigation, the DOE’s loan is not without its own controversy.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in his opposition to the plant, pointed to anger over a $535 million loan to California solar firm Solyndra, which House Republicans of the Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating for more than a year, alleging that administration officials missed warning signs and mishandled taxpayer funds. Markey wants the Committee to open an inquiry into Southern Co.’s new loan, noting that it is worth fifteen times more than Solyndra’s ill-fated loan, and describing it as “exponentially riskier.” Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Florida, who heads the oversight panel, says the renewable energy loan guarantees that his panel is investigating are at a higher risk than the “proven [nuclear] industry” with its “established record.”

While the tentacles of politics are wrapped around every bit of this story, it illustrates some of the major hurdles alternative- and clean-energy projects face in the future, from regulatory uncertainty to evaluating risk in financing such projects. The Green Mien has posted about significant progress in financing clean energy, but we predict that Knowledge Mosaic’s tools in navigating the regulatory landscape will not prove obsolete anytime soon.

One response to this post.

  1. […] and promote education in science and technology. With the first new reactor approved since 1978 on the way in Georgia, we might be seeing real progress. Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the […]

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