The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Southern Co.'s plan for the first licenses to build reactors in 32 years, with its chairman dissenting because he said there hasn't been a commitment to implement safety upgrades after Japan's nuclear disaster last year.
The split vote mars the start of a new atomic era as Southern builds the first U.S. nuclear reactor from a standardized design that promises to speed construction and reduce risks of runaway costs that plagued nuclear development during the 1970s and 1980s.
"I cannot support these licenses as if Fukushima never happened," Chairman Gregory Jaczko said after the 4-1 vote at NRC headquarters today in Rockville, Maryland.
Jaczko said he couldn't support the licenses without a binding agreement that Southern, of Atlanta, and its partners would operate the new reactors with safety enhancements meant to prevent the partial meltdowns that occurred at Fukushima.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says the agency plans to issue the license tomorrow. Southern can begin work immediately on the nuclear portion of the project.