Activists to press court to halt construction of new nuke reactors

A coalition of activists will urge a federal court in the coming days to halt construction of two new nuclear reactors at a power plant in Georgia.

The nine groups — which include the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Friends of the Earth — are vocal opponents of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s February decision to green-light construction of the reactors, the first new U.S. reactors in more than three decades.

Jennifer Rennicks, SACE spokeswoman, confirmed to The Hill that the groups will file a motion with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in the coming days. The motion, which is part of a lawsuit filed by the groups in February, is aimed at halting construction of the reactors at Southern Co.’s Vogtle power plant near Waynesboro, Ga. The groups will officially announce their plans later Monday.

The groups decided to file the motion after the NRC unanimously denied their petition earlier Monday to delay the license allowing construction of the new reactors. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell confirmed the commission’s decision in an email.

The NRC voted 4-1 in February to approve a license allowing construction and conditional operation of two reactors at the Vogtle plant. The decision marked the first time federal regulators approved construction of a new reactor since 1978.

While the decision was a major victory for the nuclear industry, anti-nuclear activists have vowed to fight it, arguing that the commission did not fully take into account the lessons of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

The groups had pressed the NRC to delay construction of the new reactors until a federal court weighed in on whether the Vogtle license violated new rules put in place in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

The groups called on the court in February to require the NRC to issue a new environmental analysis of the proposed reactors. The upcoming motion, to be filed in the coming days, requests a stay of the license until the court makes its decision.

SACE says the AP1000 reactors approved by the commission for construction should be redesigned to ensure they are not vulnerable to major natural disasters like earthquakes and floods.

“To build reactors that might need to be significantly modified later and extensively backfitted in light of new post-Fukushima regulatory requirements risks wasting ratepayer dollars, causing unnecessary pollution, and even possible abandonment of the project,” SACE said in a statement.

NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko, the lone vote against approving construction of the new reactors, has said the commission should not issue the license without first getting assurances that the reactor operators will take into account the lessons of the Fukushima disaster.

"I simply cannot authorize issuance of these licenses without any binding obligation that these plants will have implemented the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before they operate," Jaczko said in a February written statement explaining his dissent.

This story was updated at 3:22 p.m.