Two new AP1000 reactors proposed for the expansion of Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga., on Tuesday received a Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In a major milestone for the project—the first two reactors that will be built in the U.S. in 25 years—the federal regulatory agency concluded there are no safety aspects that would preclude it from issuing a limited work authorization and combined construction and operating license (COL) for the project.

The action clears the way for the NRC to begin mandatory hearings and vote to confirm approval of the reactor COLs. Final approval for the COLs could come by the end of the year.

The hearings, scheduled for the fall, will take into account the FSER and the Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) issued in April. The agency’s five commissioners will determine whether the staff’s review has been adequate to support the findings necessary to issue a COL.

Because the Vogtle COL application filed in March 2008 (and supplemented in October 2009) references the amended AP1000 design, the commission must also complete the certification process for that design before it can render a mandatory hearing decision on the COL.

The 1,100-MW AP1000 reactor, Westinghouse’s third-generation reactor design, has already been certified, but the Toshiba-owned company amended the design, asking the NRC to review the changes in February 2008. The reactor design could receive the NRC’s revised design certification by next month, industry sources say.

Construction of the proposed Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will be overseen by Southern Nuclear for Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power Corporation, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities. Georgia Power owns 45.7% of the new units.

Southern Nuclear has been working under a Limited Work Authorization permit since 2009, which allows for certain safety-related construction activities.

"This is a significant step forward in the licensing process for the Vogtle project," said Southern Co. Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning in a statement on Tuesday.

Sources: POWERnews, NRC, Southern Co.