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Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 1:25pm

Groups Try to Stop Nuclear Reactors

Environmental groups are asking a federal court to stop the expansion of a nuclear power plant near Waynesboro.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Savannah Riverkeeper, the Center for a Sustainable Coast, Georgia's Women's Action for New Directions and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League argue that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission violated federal laws in approving an early site permit for two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle. The permit authorizes a limited amount of construction and site preparation, which has begun.

The groups argue the work shouldn't proceed before the NRC decides on a combined operating and construction license for the proposed new reactors, a decision that's expected to come in 2011. They worry any delays in the licensing process could mean higher costs to Georgia Power ratepayers. Georgia Power is a majority owner of the plant.

The state legislature this year approved a controversial measure that allows Georgia Power to increase rates sooner rather than later -- while construction of the reactors is in progress, not after the project's completion. Opponents say the increases pose a risk to ratepayers, especially if there are cost overruns.

The proposed expansion has recently encountered one hurdle. The NRC two weeks ago announced that the current design of the proposed reactors did not meet safety standards.

Proponents say that earlier rate increases will save ratepayers money. Southern Company, Georgia Power's parent corporation, says that the reactor manufacturer Westinghouse is working on the design and that they don't expect the issue to cause delays.

Company officials expect both reactors to go online by 2017, if the NRC approves its license.