New reactors in Georgia buck anti-nuclear fear tactics

photo A digital rendering of a nuclear power plant.

It is encouraging that regulators have approved a new nuclear power plant in Georgia -- the first such plant approved in the United States in 34 years. But it is a sad testament to the influence of anti-nuclear activists that it took so long to approve a new nuclear plant in this country.

The reactors will be near Augusta, Ga.

So what caused the delay in expanding nuclear power? After all, it has cost advantages over wind and solar power. And unlike coal, it does not have the emissions that so trouble environmental activists.

Well, there are both valid and illegitimate concerns.

It is reasonable to ask what is to be done with nuclear waste. It must be stored at the plant where it is generated or hauled to a central storage site. In either case, radioactive waste has to be handled with caution.

And that was the goal of Yucca Mountain, an isolated site in Nevada which U.S. taxpayers spent more than $12 billion preparing to receive tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel. Today, that fuel is stored close to nuclear plants in 33 states.

But in 2010, the Obama administration killed the project, halting its funding and eliminating jobs.

The administration didn't raise safety or technical reasons for shutting down Yucca Mountain, according to a report in 2011 by the Government Accountability Office. Rather, the GAO found that the decision was political, and that it may be more than two decades before the United States can open a different site to store nuclear waste. That would entail billions more dollars in costs.

If there is any consolation to the unwise decision to end the project, it is that nuclear power has a good safety record in the United States.

It is no coincidence that the last nuclear power plant construction approved in this country -- in 1978 -- was just one year prior to a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania. Environmentalists stirred panic about nuclear power in general. But to this day, discussions of Three Mile Island gloss over the fact that no one died or was badly hurt in that incident, the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.

That omission is unfortunate, but we congratulate Georgia on the approval of its nuclear plant. And we have every confidence it will safely generate power for hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.