Nuclear opponents protest Vogtle expansion on Chernobyl anniversary

FILE - This 1986 aerial file photo of the reactor four at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine shows damage from an explosion and fire on April 26, 1986 that sent large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere. Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday April 12, 2011, to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater. Japanese nuclear regulators said they raised the rating from 5 to 7 _ the highest level on an international scale of nuclear accidents overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency _ after new assessments of radiation leaks from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant since it was disabled by the March 11 tsunami. (AP Photo/ Volodymyr Repik, File)

ATLANTA -- Groups opposed to all nuclear energy used Tuesday, April 26,'s 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster to demonstrate outside Georgia Power Co. offices in protest of the company's plans to build two reactors in Waynesboro.

The design of the Soviet reactor that caught fire and spread fallout in Eastern Europe is different from those used in the United States or from what Georgia Power wants to build at Plant Vogtle. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is evaluating the new design for Vogtle's Units 3 and 4. Company officials hope to get NRC's go-ahead by year end, but the environmental groups protesting Tuesday, April 26, hope the delay will be longer in order to incorporate lessons from the March accident in Fukushima, Japan.

"It doesn't matter the design," said one of the protest organizers, Amanda Hill-Attkisson, managing director, Georgia Women's Action for New Directions.

No design will be safe enough for the protesters, she said, because the danger in an accident could be too great.

"The nuclear reactors have the same risk of mechanical failures, human failures and unknown natural disasters," she said.

Well, the risk of a tsunami may not be very high in Waynesboro, and earthquake activity in Georgia is relatively mild compared to Japan, even though faults do run through the state, according to Beth Thomas, spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear, a sister company to Georgia Power which operates Plant Vogtle.

"The safety record of our operations at Southern Nuclear is exemplary, and we've operated nuclear plants for 31 years," she said.

Hill-Attkisson raised the question of a breaker that tripped and caused Vogtle's Unit 1 to shut down last week. Thomas said a component and the breaker were replaced and that the unit is back at 100 percent power production.

But Thomas said the company sees no reason to delay Vogtle's expansion because of the Fukushima disaster.

"To the extent that we can learn from those events, we intend to do that," she said.