Both Republicans running for Georgia governor say they support the use of nuclear power in a state that could see the nation's first nuclear reactor in a generation, and one candidate wants the country to recycle spent nuclear fuel rods.
Former Congressman Nathan Deal faces former Secretary of State Karen Handel in an Aug. 10 runoff for the GOP primary. The winner will compete against former Gov. Roy Barnes, a Democrat, in November's general election.
The victor will have a unique public pulpit to influence what the nuclear industry hopes will be the start of a period of growth. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is seeking permission to break ground on the first nuclear power plant in about 30 years in Georgia.
"I believe it is an answer to part of our energy issues," Deal said in a recent interview. "It is a renewable resource."
Handel was similarly supportive.
"I support a diversification of our sources for electrical generation and believe that nuclear power represents a safe and clean option and should continue to play significant role in Georgia's overall power generation supply," she said in a statement.
The final decision on whether the Southern Co. and its partners can construct two more nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro rests with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and is expected next year. Still, the leader of Georgia's state government can bring political pressure to bear on the project and also take state-level steps to encourage or restrict the industry.
Last year, Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation allowing the Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power to bill its customers in advance for the finance costs of building the reactors at Plant Vogtle. Georgia currently meets about 21 percent of the state's electricity needs through nuclear power.
In an interview, Deal noted that nuclear plants provide France with roughly 80 percent of its electricity, far outpacing the United States.
Deal said he supports reprocessing nuclear fuel rods once they are too depleted to power reactors. He said the Savannah River Site, a former bomb-making plant across the Georgia border in South Carolina, could house recycling facilities. He called recycling a better option than indefinitely storing used rods at nuclear power plants since President Barack Obama's administration has decided against burying that waste deep underground in Nevada.
"It would provide job opportunities for us and it would also reduce the danger of the residual waste that is left since we're now not pursuing ... Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage site," Deal said. "Anything you can do to reduce the danger of those spent rods by further processing them, I think is beneficial on a number of fronts."
President Jimmy Carter banned the reprocessing of spent fuel rods because of concerns that components in the spent rods could be used to build a nuclear weapon. By the time President Ronald Reagan reversed Carter, the market for nuclear energy was contracting and commercial firms were not interested in reprocessing them.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced this week it will hold the first of two public workshops next month to discuss how a reprocessing plant would be regulated, NRC spokesman David McIntyre said. No firm has yet proposed building one.
Besides using nuclear energy, Deal said the state should also burn biomass such as a pine trees to generate electricity. Handel said Georgia needs to increase its use of electricity generated by natural gas and hydroelectric dams while exploring the potential for offshore wind turbines.
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