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First US nuclear power plant deal in 30 years

Latest update : 2008-04-09

A US-based unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp. has struck a deal for the construction of two power plants on American soil, in the first nuclear deal in the US since the Three Mile Island incident three decades ago.

Westinghouse Electric, a unit of the Japanese Toshiba Corp., said Tuesday it had struck a deal with Georgia Power to build two nuclear power plants in the southern United States, the first such projects in 30 years.

The announcement that two Westinghouse AP1000 power plants would be built at a site near Augusta, Georgia which already had two existing nuclear reactors, came days after the 29th anniversary of a major US nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

Westinghouse chief executive Steve Tritch described the deal as evidence that the "nuclear renaissance has moved beyond the planning stage" and said it would "ensure that the United States will have the power it will need to support long-term economic growth."

The Shaw Group said the nuclear division of its Power Group and Westinghouse Electric Company had been awarded an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract by Georgia Power Company to build the reactors at the existing Vogtle Electric Generating Plant site near Augusta, Georgia.

The two reactors will have an electric generating capacity of 1,100 megawatts and are expected to be built by 2016 and 2017 respectively.

"Nuclear energy is vital for the future of our nation's electricity supply system as the demand for clean, reliable and cost-effective power continues to soar," said J.M. Bernhard, Shaw's chairman, president and chief executive officer.

The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

No nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1978, and the accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear facility in March 1979 effectively put a halt to the country's civilian nuclear energy program.

A malfunction in the cooling unit of the nuclear power plant caused the reactor's core to overheat, raising concerns of a massive radiation spill. No deaths were caused by the incident, which nevertheless sparked stricter federal controls.

The nuclear scare turned the country's attention toward cheaper yet more polluting sources of energy, such as natural gas and coal, which are blamed for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change and are falling out of favor as the country becomes more environmentally aware.

Around half the energy used for electricity in the United States comes from coal, compared to about 20 percent from nuclear power.

Westinghouse built the first commercial reactor in the United States in 1957, and its AP1000 technology has been projected for use in 14 more planned reactors.

Westinghouse and Shaw signed in July 2007 a contract to build four AP1000 reactors in China.

Around 30 nuclear reactor projects have yet to get off the ground in the United States, according to the French group Areva which is among the companies in the running to help lead what is believed to be an approaching nuclear renaissance in the United States.

Until now, choices in technology have been decided upon but no complete reactors have been built.

Before construction can begin on the Westinghouse-Georgia Power project, the plans have to pass through a series of administrative steps, including a review on May 1 by Georgia state authorities who must rubberstamp the project.

Date created : 2008-04-09