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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision last week to suspend final approval of new nuclear power plant licenses will strand 19 final reactor licensing decisions, including nine construction and operating licenses for planned new projects.
However, the two largest nuclear projects in the nation will proceed as planned, The Augusta Chronicle reports.
Plant Vogtle, a $14-billion expansion in Burke County, GA which was licensed earlier this year, and SCANA’s V.C. Summer expansion in South Carolina were not addressed in the NRC order, and may continue as planned, said Scott Burnell, an NRC spokesman at its headquarters in Maryland.
The Vogtle project is well under way – with about 2,200 construction workers on the Burke County site daily – but the licensing freeze is not expected to have any major impacts, said Southern Company spokesman Steve Higginbottom.
“There could be some lessening of competition for skilled labor, but because of where we are already in the construction process, we don’t anticipate a tremendous impact,” he said, adding that the new units are still on track to be completed in 2016 and 2017.
NRC regulators shut down the licensing process to re-evaluate the safety and environmental impacts of storing spent nuclear fuel at commercial reactor sites. The fate of about 75,000 tons of spent fuel in pools or casks at the nation’s 104 operating reactors is in limbo because the government’s planned nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain was halted by the Obama administration and a new solution has not been defined.
Spent fuel from decades of operating Plant Vogtle’s units 1 and 2, meanwhile, has nearly filled the available storage space in the pools, the Chronicle reports. Construction is under way to build an above-ground “cask storage” system, which the NRC will license for up to 20 years before a renewal is required.
Cask storage is already in place at Vogtle’s sister nuclear plants Hatch and Farley, which have 42 and 12 casks filled, respectively. Those sites are among 51 licensed cask facilities in 47 locations in the U.S., according to the NRC.