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SUNDAY, JANUARY 16, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Nuclear power could make a comeback

Southern Co., parent of Alabama Power, is testing public sentiment about the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity.

With no new plant licensed in nearly 30 years, Southern Co. is asking the Department of Energy for $245,000 to help fund a preliminary study of sites for new reactors.

The company stressed that applying for the grant doesn't imply that the energy giant will build new plants. Thus, funding a preliminary study is a way to see if the public's mood about nuclear power has changed since the days of the Three Mile Island accident that nearly resulted in a meltdown.

The best way to test is to conduct a study.

Things have changed in 30 years. The nuclear industry is much more sophisticated than when Three Mile Island happened and when Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant caught fire.

Plants today rarely have to shut down because of technical or operator problems. The two units operating at Browns Ferry rarely get public notice today.

The renewed interest in building plants comes, however, with concern about President Bush's push to get more of them on line.

With the nation mired in an energy crunch, the administration wants to streamline nuclear licensing, which should be attractive to power companies. But so would cutting a corner here and there to push along construction be attractive to bottom-line companies.

Surely there is compromise between the past and present that won't endanger the public while making these plants more profitable to construct and operate.

The nation runs on energy, and nuclear power is a vital part of the mix. For example, when Unit 1 at Browns Ferry comes back on line, it will generate enough electricity to serve 650,000 residences and businesses.

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