The first nuclear plants to be approved in the US in more than 30 years have been given the green light by the the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Licenses will be issued within 10 days.
The two new plants will be built next to two existing ones (Vogtle nuclear power plant) in Georgia, and will be subsidized by the Dept of Energy (US taxpayers) to the tune of $8.2 billion through a loan guarantee.
"This is a historic day," says Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade group, in a press release. "Today's licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security."
Opponents will file suit against the approvals, calling it a travesty as Japan continues reeling from its nuclear meltdown and Germany opted to eliminate nuclear altogether in favor of renewable energy.
Meanwhile, Democrats like Rep Ed Markey (D-MA) note the loan guarantee is 15 times the amount given to Solyndra, which the GOP now threatens contempt charges over.
"I think we are putting our taxpayer money at unnecessary risk given the unresolved safety issues and the lessons that have been learned from Fukushima," Markey told The Hill.
Indeed, what would happen if these plants get built and then don't end up operating as a result of lawsuits?
"If Vogtle 3 and 4 default on their loan repayments, it'll be 15 times worse than the Solyndra debacle," says Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear. "U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook for $8.3 billion. The nuclear utilities have no skin in the game, representing a tremendous moral hazard."
"An NRC license does not guarantee ultimate project success," he says. "Atomic reactors have been NRC licensed and then nearly, or even entirely, constructed, and still blocked from operating."
Example: two reactors in Michigan were almost completely built when watchdogs proved they were sinking into the ground like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They were then cancelled, at a loss of billions of dollars. More examples.
NRC Chair Gregory Jaczko was the lone dissenter in the vote to approve the new nuclear plants, because no new safety procedures have been put in place since the Japan meltdown.
The NRC is purportedly "mulling" new rules that would protect reactors from earthquakes and floods, but "sweeping" improvements in rules have yet to emerge.
President Obama set up a federal task force after the Fukushima disaster and found that sweeping improvements are needed to NRC's "existing patchwork of regulatory requirements and other safety initiatives," reports The Hill.
"The federal government is putting the American taxpayer on the hook for billions of dollars to build nuclear reactors that corporations would never risk building themselves," says Jim Riccio, a nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace USA."
Preliminary construction has already begun, costing local utility customers over $2 billion so far. Yes, it's the utility customers that foot the bill for these plants through their electricity bills.