Utility regulators in Georgia OKed continued construction on two expensive nuclear power projects that could reshape the country’s nuclear energy industry for years.
Georgia’s Public Service Commission decision Thursday to approve further construction on two reactors at Plant Vogtle could prop up the nuclear industry for years. The reactors are the first ones to be constructed in the U.S. since 1978.
The project was plagued by delays and spiraling costs after the main contractor, Westinghouse Electric, filed for bankruptcy in March. Initial estimates placed the cost at $14 billion, but have since exploded to more than $25 billion.
Regulators encouraged the use of off-the-shelf designs that could get approval in advance, and new construction techniques were designed to make building the projects quicker and reduce human error. However, cost outlays quickly ballooned.
The reactors ran into more than $800 million in extra charges in 2012 related to licensing delays, some of which came from activists concerned about possible nuclear contamination.
Environmental groups have a long history of opposing nuclear energy. These groups prevented nuclear power from becoming the standard by increasing the cost of nuclear plants and protesting enough to creating artificial delays in construction.
Nuclear energy lobbyist groups, meanwhile, cheered the decision as a move that will help the country switch to the kind of green energy needed to help the environment.
“America’s pre-eminence in nuclear energy makes our country safer because it allows us to influence and control how this technology is used around the world,” Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Maria Korsnick said in a press statement shortly after the announcement.
The reactors at Plant Vogtle will produce “decade’s worth of clean, reliable power and provide billions of dollars in economic benefits,” she added.
The U.S. currently operates 99 nuclear reactors across 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants, according to the EIA. The average plant employs between 400 and 700 high-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million, and contributes $470 million to the local economy, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
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