ATLANTA — Atlanta-based Southern Co. said Thursday it supports President Barack Obama's call for a safety review of all the country's nuclear power plants in light of the ongoing crisis in Japan.
Obama said he's asking for a review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after at least three reactors at a Japanese power plant suffered at least partial meltdowns. A tsunami and earthquake on March 11 knocked out backup generators used to run the plants' cooling systems. The president called nuclear plants "an important part of our own energy future."
Southern Co. operates six nuclear reactors in Georgia and Alabama. Company spokeswoman Valerie Hendrickson said the power company remains committed to building two more reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Ga.
"We fully support a safety review and learning lessons from the events in Japan," she said.
It remained unclear Thursday whether the review could slow or change the licensing process for the expansion at Plant Vogtle. Costs escalated during the last round of nuclear building, partly because federal regulators changed safety rules after a 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania.
"I think clearly we're all paying attention to what would happen if there's a delay, what would it do for costs if they start putting in new, extraordinary standards?" said Stan Wise, chairman of the state's Public Service Commission.
Marvin S. Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, said in a statement that a "review of our nuclear plants is an appropriate step after an event of this scale and we expect that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will conduct its own assessment."
"The industry's highest priority is the safe operation of 104 reactors in 31 states and we will incorporate lessons learned from this accident at American nuclear energy facilities," he said, calling U.S. reactors "the safest in the world."