Friday, May 28, 2010

Plant Vogtle and Environmental Justice

AAEA has not conducted an in-depth analysis of the environmental justice issues related to the proposed construction of two new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle, left, but our preliminary observation is that the economic impacts and disproportionate industrial site issues have merit. Clearly the operation of Plant Vogtle has not led to economic advancement for the Blacks in the City of Waynesboro or in Burke, County Georgia. The county is 51% Black and 47% White. The racial makeup of the city is 63% African American, 36% White. The question is: how much responsibility does the Southern Company have for economic development and employment in the City of Waynesboro and Burke County in general and to the black communities in particular?
The unemployment rate in Waynesboro and Burke County is 11.5% and the median income is $32,000. Our guess is that the Black unemployment, if it mirrors the national trend, hovers around 17%. According to the Burke County tax commissioner, property taxes from Plant Vogtle account for 77 percent ($22 million last year) of all property taxes in the county. That percentage is expected to rise with the addition of the two new reactors.

We doubt the health, safety and pollution claims by opponents of the current plant because studies have proved otherwise at commercial nuclear power plants all over the country. Although nuclear power plants have air, water and RCRA permits, they do not generally pose health, safety or pollution threats. However, they have pollution permits and add to the overall impacts in the area. And that is where environmental injustice could be triggered. The nearby Savannah River site is acknowledged by everyone as being a highly polluted site. Billions are committed to its cleanup.

The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, located near Waynesboro in eastern Georgia near the South Carolina border, is jointly owned by Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power (45.7%), Oglethorpe Power Corporation (30%), Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (22.7%) and Dalton Utilities (1.6%).

An Early Site Permit (ESP) was issued to Georgia Power by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in August 2009. Georgia Power’s application for a construction and operating license (COL) is currently being considered by the NRC. The reactor design is the Westinghouse AP1000. Georgia Power has receive an $8.3 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy for construction of the plant.

Reverend Charles Utley of Hyde Park in Augusta has pointed out the continued poverty in Burke County after the construction boom that accompanied the first two Vogtle reactors. Considering that Georgia Power has to come up with about $14 billion to build the plant and the NRC charges almost $100 million just to get the license to operate the plant, no wonder monies are not available for additional economic development projects. Yet, with so much money being spent, it would seem that more funds could be directed to economic development in the area. Without it, environmental injustice via disproportionate impacts becomes an issue that should be seriously considered.

Reverend Charles Utley, Pastor, McElmurray Spring Branch Baptist Church, 677 Spring Branch Church Road, Waynesboro, GA 308-30706-554-9100

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