Wednesday, January 04, 2012

NRC Approves Westinghouse's AP1000 Nuclear Reactor Design

Dec 22: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to approve a rule certifying an amended version of Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor design for use in the United States. The amended certification, which will be incorporated into the NRC's regulations, will be valid for 15 years. NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said, "The Commission is able to reach this final step in approving the amended AP1000 reactor design due to the staff's dedicated work ensuring the design meets NRC's safety requirements. The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials."
    The Commission also found good cause to make the rule immediately effective once it is published in the Federal Register. NRC rules normally become effective 30 days after publication. The Federal Register notice and the Commission's directions to the staff on publishing the approved rule will include a discussion on the good cause finding. The final rule was published in the Federal Register on December 30, 2011 [76 FR 82079-82103].
    The design certification process provides for public participation and early resolution of safety issues for proposed reactor designs. NRC certification, in the form of a final rule, means the design meets the Agency's applicable safety requirements. If an applicant for a nuclear power plant license references a certified design, the applicant need not submit safety information for the design. Instead, the license application and the NRC's safety review would address the remaining safety issues specific to the proposed nuclear power plant.
    The AP1000 is a 1,100 megawatt electric pressurized-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for human intervention. Westinghouse submitted an application for certification of the original AP1000 standard plant design on March 28, 2002; the NRC issued a rule certifying that design on Jan. 27, 2006. Westinghouse submitted an application to amend the AP1000 on May 27, 2007. The NRC's extensive technical review of the amendment request focused on ensuring the agency's safety requirements have been met.
    NRC indicated that the transparent process, including input from the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, led to the NRC issuing a final safety evaluation report on the amended AP1000 in August. The NRC issued a proposed rule for the amended design in January. Stakeholders provided more than 12,000 comments on the proposed rule; the NRC staff considered these comments in developing the final rule.
    The NRC said it is currently reviewing six Combined License applications that reference the amended AP1000 design. The NRC has certified three other standard reactor designs: the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor; System 80+; and AP600. The Agency is currently reviewing applications to certify the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor, the U.S. Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor and the EPR pressurized-water reactor.
    U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu issued a statement in support of the NRC decision to certify the AP1000 nuclear reactor design, which DOE indicated is a significant step towards constructing a new generation of U.S. nuclear reactors. In February 2010, the Obama Administration announced the offer of a conditional commitment for a $8.33 billion loan guarantee for the construction and operation of two AP1000 reactors at Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generation Plant in Burke, Georgia [See WIMS 2/17/10 & WIMS 2/16/10]. Secretary Chu said, "The Administration and the Energy Department are committed to restarting America's nuclear industry -- creating thousands of  jobs in the years ahead and powering our nation's homes and businesses with domestic, low-carbon energy. Today's decision certifying the AP1000 reactor design marks an important milestone towards constructing the first U.S. nuclear reactors in three decades."
    Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber's Institute for 21st Century Energy, issued a statement on the NRC's approval saying, "Today's unanimous decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to approve the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor design speeds up momentum towards expanding the use of clean, safe, and reliable nuclear energy in the United States. With the approval of the AP1000 design, the NRC may now issue a combined Construction and Operating License (COL) for two new reactors at Southern Company's Plant Vogtle, as well as two new reactors at a plant in South Carolina. The issuance of a COL for these projects would be the first issued for new construction of a reactor in 34 years. 

    "The AP1000 contains the newest and best technology available. The design was thoroughly tested by the NRC and found to be able to withstand a multitude of scenarios, from earthquakes to plane crashes. The approval of this design clears the way for future expansion and construction of nuclear plants across the nation, allowing Americans to benefit from nuclear energy for decades to come and creating thousands of skilled jobs. I urge the NRC to issue the licenses for the two pending applications expeditiously."
     Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) released a lengthy release and statement regarding the NRC approval of the final rule for the Westinghouse AP1000 design and which he said also granted a rule change requested by Southern Company to allow construction to begin before the NRC staff have incorporated and published all reactor design changes adopted by the Commission. Rep. Markey said that one of NRC's longest-serving staff warned in NRC documents that the reactor's containment could shatter "like a glass cup" due to flaws in the design of the shield building if impacted by an earthquake or commercial aircraft. In the publicly released votes on the matter, Chairman Greg Jaczko disapproved the proposal to allow the acceleration of reactor construction, Commissioner George Apostolakis voted to approve it, and Commissioner William Magwood's vote did not refer to it. In the final vote, Chairman Jaczko was overridden by his colleagues.
    Rep. Markey said, "Today, the NRC has presented its holiday gifts to the nuclear industry. Instead of doing all they should to protect nuclear reactors against seismically-induced ground acceleration, these Commissioners voted to approve the acceleration of reactor construction. While they continue to slow walk the implementation of recommendations of the NRC professional staff's Near-Term Task Force on Fukushima, they have fast-tracked construction of a reactor whose shield building could 'shatter like a glass cup' if impacted by an earthquake or other natural or man-made impact."
    Access a release from NRC (click here). Access the FR announcement (click here). Access more information about the amended AP1000 design review (click here). Access a release from DOE (click here). Access the statement from the U.S. Chamber (click here). Access the release and statement from Rep. Markey (click here). Access links to the Commission voting records on the AP1000 approval (click here). [# [#ENERGY/Nuclear]