NRC board rules new Vogtle reactors pose threats

Guest Blog | March 15, 2007 | Press Releases

March 15, 2007 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Sara Barczak, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 912.201.0354 Dave Kyler, Center for a Sustainable Coast, 912.638.3612 Janet Marsh, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, 336.982.2691 Larry Sanders, Turner Environmental Law Clinic, 404.712.8008 Groups win arguments in challenging new nuclear plants in Georgia: Board rules expansion poses threats to Savannah River and environment Atlanta, GA– Concerned public interest organizations in Georgia had a victory for the Savannah River in an initial legal effort to prevent two more nuclear reactors from being built at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s three-judge panel ruled this week in favor of the groups’ arguments that the Savannah River must be protected but rejected many other important issues. The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board concluded that threats to the Savannah River and surrounding environment need to be further examined by Southern Company. This includes concerns about the impacts of withdrawing large amounts of water from the river and the resulting thermal discharge, or heated water, on the river from the proposed reactors. Of special concern are two fish species found in the Savannah: the shortnose sturgeon, a federally protected endangered species, and the robust redhorse, a rare fish that until recently was considered extinct. The groups argued that Southern Company did not acknowledge the impacts that the additional reactors would have on the fish and river ecosystem; the proposed reactors would essentially double both the amount of water being withdrawn and the amount of discharge going back into the Savannah River. “This decision shows that Georgia’s water resources and environment may stand to lose if nuclear power proposals go forward,” said Sara Barczak, safe energy director with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in their Savannah office. “However, it’s unfortunate that the broader questions won’t be debated, including what are the best, safest, and most affordable energy options for Georgia’s future or what we’re going to do with nuclear waste.” The citizen groups, Atlanta WAND (Women’s Action for New Directions), Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Savannah Riverkeeper and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, filed a petition in December 2006 to intervene on behalf of their members with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to stop the proposed expansion of nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County along the Savannah River. The Emory University School of Law’s Turner Environmental Law Clinic, along with attorney Diane Curran of Washington, D.C., are representing the organizations. The groups raised concerns about the effects more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle would have on minorities and low income communities located near the plant, various aquatic species, water supply and quality, nuclear waste management, security and public health. “We’re glad we can move forward in our challenge but certainly are disappointed that the decision ignores the very real threats that surrounding residents, many of them poor, have suffered and will continue to suffer,” Bobbie Paul, executive director of Atlanta WAND, said. The organizations were disturbed that the Board rejected the need to address terrorism and the impacts of intentional attacks on the existing and proposed nuclear reactors. The board also refused to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives for avoiding or mitigating those impacts. “The licensing board agrees with us that the Savannah River must be protected, but they have flatly refused to consider the risks and dangers of terrorism,” Janet Marsh, executive director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said. She added, “More reactors make a bigger terrorist target.” The Early Site Permit is the first step by Georgia utilities to get federal approval for new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. Southern Company’s nuclear division, Southern Nuclear Operating Company, filed for an Early Site Permit with the NRC in August 2006 on behalf of Plant Vogtle’s co-owners, Georgia Power (a subsidiary of the Southern Company), Oglethorpe Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG) and Dalton Utilities. If approved, the permit could be used at any time for up to twenty years in any future applications with the NRC. Though every major utility in the Southeast is proposing to build a new nuclear reactor within the next five to ten years, independently or through a consortium, the organizations believe future energy demand in Georgia and across the region should instead be met by aggressive energy efficiency and conservation measures and clean energy choices such as wind, solar, and bioenergy. “Actually, these other energy measures pose significantly less risk to communities and to our water resources while playing an important role in reducing global warming pollution,” said Dave Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast. “But the Board’s ruling won’t let us talk about that.” For more information on the organizations, visit: Atlanta WAND, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Savannah Riverkeeper, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, The December 2006 petition can be downloaded at For more information on the NRC’s Vogtle early site permit application process, visit # # #