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Saturday, October 17, 2009 - 6:11am

Southern Co.: Design Flaws Won't Delay Nuclear Expansion

Southern Company says design flaws in a proposed reactor should not delay the expansion of the a nuclear power plant near Waynesboro.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has found design problems with the proposed nuclear reactors big enough to not meet their safety standards.

Southern Company plans to operate two of the new reactors at Plant Vogtle, if the NRC approves their license.

The company says it still expects to have the first reactor up and running by 2016.

Carrie Phillips, a spokesperson for Southenr Nuclear Operation Company says the manufacturer Westinghouse is working on the problem.

"The licensing process, we'll just kind of work through and make adjustments as we go forward."

Phillips is unsure if the changes will lead to any additional costs.

That has opponents of the power plant expansion worried.

They say a decision by the Georgia legislature this year to increase power rates during construction might lock ratepayers into having to pay for cost overruns.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in a press conference Thursday that the current design of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors planned to be used at Plant Vogtle and several other power plants in the U.S. could lead to significant safety issues.

The problems are with a shield building that is supposed to protect the reactor from severe weather and other catastrophic events. It is also supposed to prevent radiation from escaping the reactor, as well as support an emergency cooling water tank.

The NRC’s Office of New Reactors says it’s been discussing the issue with Westinghouse, who has been contracted by the plants to build the reactors, for at least a year, and that the company has yet to present design modifications that could safely withstand basis loads.

It’s unclear how long the design issue would delay permits for the plant expansions, and how much extra cost would be involved. The reactors would be among the first new ones to be built in the U.S. in decades.