ATLANTA — The Southern Co. is unlikely to receive permission until early 2012 to build what could become the country's first new nuclear plant in a generation, according to a new timeline from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Company officials wanted to secure federal permission before the end of the year to build two Westinghouse Electric Co. AP1000 reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta. But Southern Co. CEO Thomas Fanning recently acknowledged the approval process may stretch into early 2012.
The $14 billion effort is the flagship project in a new wave of U.S. nuclear power plants. President Barack Obama's administration has awarded the project $8 billion in federal loan guarantees as part of an effort to expand the country's reliance on nuclear power. NRC staffers issued two reports last week finding that the AP1000 reactor and plans to build it in Georgia met federal safety requirements.
Two big steps remain before Southern Co. and its partners could start construction. First, NRC commissioners must vote to formally approve the AP1000 reactor slated for use at Plant Vogtle and other sites. Besides Georgia, Westinghouse Electric has contracts to build AP1000 reactors in South Carolina and Florida. Four AP1000 reactors are under construction in China.
R.W. Borchardt, the NRC's executive director for operations, said in a memo released Wednesday that assuming the agency's commissioners vote to approve the reactor, it could take until January to publish the rules for the AP1000 in the Federal Register. The reactor design would be considered formally approved once those rules have been published for 30 days.
After the new reactor is approved, the NRC's commissioners could vote on whether to give Southern Co. permission to start building the new plant in Georgia. Fanning has told analysts that a delay into early next year should not affect the overall schedule to bring the new reactors online by 2016 and 2017.
Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power owns a 46 percent stake in the project. Other investors include Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and the City of Dalton.