Women. Power. Peace.

Community meets with Chair of Nuclear Regulatory Commission

On June 7, residents living near Plant Vogtle along with local and regional organizations tracking the expansion of the Southern Company’s nuclear project near Waynesboro, Georgia met with Chair of the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Allison Macfarlane, during a face-to-face meeting after she tours the Vogtle construction site.

Groups represented at the meeting included Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions (Georgia WAND), Concerned Citizens of Shell Bluff, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Center for Sustainable Coast and the Savannah Riverkeeper.

The meeting began with a 30 minute Slideshow Presentation of photos from the communities near Plant Vogtle narrated by Annie Laura Howard Stephens and Reverend Willie Tomlin. Photos of run down houses, camper and trailer parks where Vogtle workers live, abandoned farms, lots for sale, and confederate flag flying in front of a home in a mostly black community painted the picture of a once thriving farm community that now faces poverty, contaminated land, oppression and intimidation.

Among concerns local residents raised were evacuation routes and procedures, emergency preparedness, health and the local economy.

The group also addressed concerns about escalating costs of the Vogtle project, chronic schedule delays, environmental impacts including chemical and thermal pollution of the Savannah River and problems with the NRC’s public outreach strategy and construction oversight by the NRC.

As the designated lead new reactor project in the country, Vogtle is facing many problems that have already resulted in increasing the costs to around $15 billion. The reactor project faces lengthy schedule delays and outstanding issues including unresolved regulatory changes stemming from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster  over two years ago and looming questions about how to deal with long-lived, radioactive waste generated by nuclear reactors. A landmark court decision regarding unresolved nuclear waste issues caused the NRC to suspend all pending licensing decisions until the waste confidence ruling can be further reviewed by the agency. However, the NRC had already granted the combined operating license for Plant Vogtle and SCE&G’s V.C. Summer plant in neighboring South Carolina.

Two Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 reactors proposed for the Vogtle site were originally slated to be operational in April 2016 and 2017 at a cost of just over $14 billion. Georgia Power, a subsidiary of the Southern Company and majority owner of the existing and proposed reactors, intends to ask the Georgia Public Service Commission to increase their previously certified cost of just over $6.1 billion by $381 million. The Company has admitted to yet another delay, with estimates now of an 18-month delay, with reactor unit 3 now projected to come online at the end of 2018 and reactor unit 4 at the end of 2019. Oglethorpe Power, MEAG and Dalton Utilities are utility partners in the proposed expansion.

The meeting was a local follow-up to an April meeting at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Maryland where the newly appointed Macfarlane met with public interest groups including Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Georgia WAND, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and promised to visit Plant Vogtle and directly hear community concerns about the first nuclear reactors built in the U.S. in 30 years.

Chairwoman Macfarlane was receptive to community concerns and stated her dedication to improving the NRC’s communication and outreach strategies.

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