Georgia utility regulators on Tuesday approved Southern Co.'s (SO) plan to build two reactors at the company's Alvin W. Vogtle nuclear power plant.

The approval gives Southern Co. utility Georgia Power state certification to build the reactors at the site near Augusta. Georgia Power can now petition state regulators for permission to recover costs associated with developing the reactors, said Bill Edge, the Georgia Public Service Commission's chief information officer.

The utility still needs federal approval before it can build the reactors. In late March of 2008, Southern filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a combined construction and operating license for the proposed reactors.

The NRC hasn't said when it will complete the review of Southern's Vogtle application, but a preliminary schedule calls for the commission to complete environmental reviews by early 2010. Georgia Power has said the new units could enter service by 2016 or 2017. Southern hasn't provided cost estimates for the new reactors, but other utilities have put the cost of building two new 1,000-megawatt Westinghouse AP1000 reactors - the same kind Georgia Power plans to develop - at $12 billion to $14 billion.

Southern is one of several U.S. power companies seeking to develop new nuclear plants. The companies have touted a nuclear renaissance as a solution to concerns about U.S. dependence on foreign oil. New reactors would also replace older coal- and gas-fired power plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, nuclear proponents have said.

Nuclear energy's detractors argue that taxpayers would be burdened by the costs of multibillion-dollar reactor projects. And the U.S. government has yet to endorse a plan for permanent storage of nuclear waste.

Georgia regulators' decision follows the Florida Public Service Commission's approval in October of plans by FPL Group Inc. (FPL) and Progress Energy Inc. (PGN) to recover preliminary costs of new nuclear development. In February, Scana Corp. (SCG) won approval from South Carolina regulators to build two new reactors at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant.

-By Christine Buurma, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-2061;