Nuclear, Reactors

GE seeks US approval for new nuclear reactor design

30 August 2005 – GE Energy’s nuclear business has formally submitted the Design Certification application for its new reactor design – the economic simplified boiling water reactor (ESBWR) – to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

GE delivered its 19-chapter, 7500-page application package to the NRC in Washington on August 24. The submission, which represents the culmination of 150 000 man-hours of design work over a ten-year period, should lead to the Final Design Approval of the ESBWR by late 2006, followed immediately by Design Certification.

The 1500 MW ESBWR is a Generation III+ reactor design because of its design simplicity and passive safety features. It depends on fewer “active” mechanical systems, with associated pumps and valves, and instead relies on more reliable “passive” systems that utilize natural forces, including natural circulation and gravity.

The ESBWR is the only reactor that fully relies on natural circulation for normal plant operations as well as passive safety systems, thus making it the most advanced, passive Generation III+ reactor to be presented to the NRC for final approval.

“Submitting the ESBWR for formal design approval represents a truly significant accomplishment by GE Energy’s engineering team that worked on this project, especially given the magnitude of the document and complex technical challenges,” said Andy White, president and CEO of GE’s nuclear business. “Many of our customers are already aware that the ESBWR is an extremely elegant design that offers all the benefits they require: safety, reliability and operational flexibility delivered with the most cost-effective advanced reactor design we can provide – one that is based on GE’s proven BWR technology.”

The ESBWR evolved from GE’s 1350 MW Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), which the NRC certified for US construction in 1997. The ABWR is a design that has already been proven with more than 18 reactor years of operating data from plants completed in Japan in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The ESBWR is considered to be an “evolutionary” design because while it incorporates much of the ABWR’s key and proven design features, including its advanced digital monitoring and controls technology and advanced construction techniques, it also incorporates new technology advances.

Submitting the ESBWR application to the NRC builds on the latest positive steps taken by the federal government and private industry to jump-start the construction of new, advanced reactors in the United States.

Earlier in August, President George W. Bush signed federal energy legislation, approved by Congress in July, containing key financial and legal incentives to encourage utilities to begin building new reactors.

In May 2005, the US Department of Energy and a consortium of leading utilities, NuStart Energy Development, formally initiated their “Nuclear 2010” agreement to share the costs of preparing joint construction and operating license (COL) applications, one for GE’s ESBWR, the other for Westinghouse’s Electric’s AP1000 design.

Virginia utility Dominion has also selected the ESBWR as its reactor design if the utility later decides it needs to build additional nuclear generating capacity. Dominion is the second of three utility groups participating in the Nuclear 2010 cost-sharing programme.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which is also part of the NuStart utility consortium, is leading the third Nuclear 2010 consortium studying whether to build an ABWR at an unfinished nuclear power plant site in Alabama.

“Thanks to the leadership of President Bush, Congress and the utility industry, the United States is on the verge of a nuclear energy renaissance,” said GE’s White. “By submitting the ESBWR for final approval and certification, GE is doing its part to support the industry’s positive momentum with new technology.”

GE estimates that if all goes as planned with the review process, formal construction of an ESBWR could begin in 2010, with commercial operation to begin as early as 2014.