A new era for nuclear power in the South likely will debut in Georgia rather than Alabama.
A consortium of electric utilities and engineering firms announced Thursday that Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga., will replace TVA's Bellefonte Nuclear Plant as the reference plant for a new Westinghouse Co. design.
NuStart Energy LLC, which is helping fund the development of new reactor designs, said Plant Vogtle is closer to being ready than the Bellefonte plant. The Vogtle plant, jointly owned by four Georgia utility groups including Dalton Utilities, is slated to become the first U.S. site for the new Westinghouse AP-1000 plant within seven years.
TVA doesn't expect to need the power from a new Bellefonte reactor for another decade, and the federal utility may opt to finish the original Bellefonte reactors before building any AP-1000 units.
"NuStart member utilities recognize that it is appropriate to align the resources for future review to an application with specific near-term construction plans," NuStart President Marilyn Kray said. "The NuStart program was originally envisioned to be a demonstration of the licensing process, but has evolved into one of the critical success factors necessary to support the actual deployment of a new nuclear plant."
Southern Nuclear, which operates Plant Vogtle, expects to receive a combined operating license for the new AP-1000 reactors by 2011 and have the new units on line by 2016 and 2017.
NuStart picked Bellefonte three years ago as the initial site to develop the AP-1000. But TVA isn't moving as quickly as the Southern Co., and its partners in Plant Vogtle to develop more nuclear power.
Although no longer the leader in the new AP-1000 development, TVA Vice President Jack Bailey said NuStart and TVA have given 95 percent of the 600 requests for information to the NRC for its licensing of the new design and site.
Buzz Miller, executive vice president for Southern Nuclear, said NuStart's switch in the reference plant "recognizes our leadership role in the development of the AP-1000 licensing process."
Mr. Miller said more nuclear power generation "will provide clean, safe, reliable and economical energy" for Georgia's biggest electric utilities.
But anti-nuclear activists still question whether the new reactors can be safely and economically built.
"The AP-1000 plant is still an unproved plant and I just think there is no way any of these nuclear plants can be built because of their huge price tag, which continues to grow," said Louise Gorenflo, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and Sustainability Team, or BEST. "We don't have the economy anymore to afford construction of these multi-billion-dollar plants and the real solution is to encourage energy conservation and use of renewables."