The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last week issued an Early Site Permit (ESP) and Limited Work Authorization (LWA) to Southern Nuclear Operating Co. for its two proposed Plant Vogtle units in Waynesboro, Ga. The ESP, valid for 20 years, is the fourth issued by federal regulators—but the first based on a specific technology, the Westinghouse AP1000.

Part of the NRC’s streamlined licensing process designed to reduce regulatory uncertainty, the ESP process resolves many site-related safety and environmental issues and determines the site is suitable for possible future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant. The LWA allows a narrow set of construction activities at the site.

Before full construction and operation of the two planned AP100 reactors can begin, however, the NRC must approve Southern Nuclear’s March 2008 application for a combined construction and operating license (COL). The company expects that, pending approvals, Unit 3 could begin operating in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.

Plant Vogtle—representing a $14 billion capital investment—is owned by Southern Nuclear subsidiary Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power Corp., the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, and Dalton Utilities. Southern Nuclear filed the Plant Vogtle ESP application with regulators on Aug. 15, 2006, and its LWA request on Aug. 16, 2007, seeking permission for construction activities limited to placement of engineered backfill, retaining walls, lean concrete, mudmats, and a waterproof membrane.

Georgia Power President and CEO Mike Garrett said securing the ESP was an important step for the Vogtle project because demand for power in the Southeast—and particularly Georgia—was expected to surge.

Before Plant Vogtle, three nuclear sites in the U.S. had received ESP permits: Exelon’s Clinton site, System Energy Resources’ Grand Gulf site, and Dominion’s North Anna site.

Sources: NRC, Southern Co.