Oceans & Forests Blog

Filing suit to block approval of new nuclear reactor design

Posted Feb. 21, 2012 / Posted by: Kurt Walters

Friends of the Earth and a coalition of 11 other groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday, February 16 to reverse the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s misguided approval of risky new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. The suit asserts that the NRC violated federal environmental law in approving the reactors without accounting for the public safety and environmental implications of the ongoing nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Jim Warren, the executive director of NC WARN, one of the groups filing suit, said that the new AP-1000 design is “unproven, untested [and] unready.” He predicted more costly delays, noting that Southern Company, which manages the Vogtle site (pictured above), has already had 12 construction change orders — which translate into cost overruns — in the preliminary construction process.

The chairman of the NRC issued a shocking dissent to the approval decision by the rest of the commission, saying that the design did not adequately account for Fukushima. “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened,” Chairman Gregory B. Jazcko told his colleagues.

Not only has the AP1000 design been criticized by engineers for safety vulnerabilities and not been fully upgraded after Fukushima, the reactor construction project burden Georgians with higher electricity costs and put billions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money at risk. That’s because the nuclear industry — too risky even for Wall Street — relies on massive loan guarantees from the federal government to finance new construction. The proposed Vogtle reactors are set to put taxpayers on the hook for $8.3 billion from a loan guarantee program that serves as a slush fund for dirty energy projects. Given Vogtle’s history, said Warren, Americans have good reason to be concerned.

“Vogtle does have a history that should trouble taxpayers,” said Warren, noting that the original two Vogtle reactors came in at 1,200 percent of projected costs and resulted in the then-largest rate hike in Georgia history. “U.S. taxpayers need to brace themselves for continued bad news if they’re put on the hook for [Vogtle].”

The lawsuit, which was filed with the D.C. Court of Appeals, will ask the court to require the NRC to provide a new environmental impact statement to show how the plant’s design, called AP1000, will be upgraded to protect against natural disasters and long losses of electric power. In the meantime, though, Fukushima is a warning telling us that the health, safety and economic risks of nuclear reactors are unacceptable, especially when safe, renewable, more cost-effective alternatives like wind, solar and geothermal are ready to be deployed.

“Contrast the enormous risks in economic and public health terms from nuclear projects with the reality of renewable energy and energy efficiency, which are already cost-competitive with nuclear and continue to fall in price. Furthermore, renewable energy promotes rather than endangers public health by cutting global warming pollution, not dirtying the air and, of course, not producing dangerous radioactive waste,” said Damon Moglen, director of Friends of the Earth’s climate and energy program, in a statement.

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