Nuclear, Reactors

No change in Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design despite NRC requests

Westinghouse Electric said it expects no design changes will result from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) request for additional work on its AP1000 reactor.
According to Reuters, Westinghouse said it was disappointed that a May 20 release from the NRC regarding several technical issues has been “misinterpreted and sensationalized” by opponents of nuclear power. Concern about nuclear safety was heightened by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan; nuclear operators continue to struggle to stabilize four damaged Fukushima nuclear units.
Nuclear critics have called on the NRC to suspend decisions on new nuclear designs until all safety issues raised by the Fukushima disaster can be fully addressed.
The NRC has said it will not slow existing work to certify new designs, such as the AP1000, which is the technology design used by more than half of the applications for 26 new reactors already filed at the NRC. The NRC must approve the reactor design before it can issue the construction license utilities need to move forward.
Two front-running utilities, Southern Company’s Georgia Power unit and SCANA Corp are awaiting final NRC approval of the AP1000 because they are spending money on limited construction work to add new reactors in Georgia and South Carolina, respectively.
Any change in the AP1000 design or delay in its approval could be costly for the utilities’ customers who already pay a small amount for the new reactors every month.
“The AP1000 is very likely the most closely scrutinized nuclear energy plant in history,” said Ric Perez, president of operations for Westinghouse. “We are confident that it is extremely safe.”
Westinghouse said three issues remain to be resolved with the NRC and none are significant from a safety standpoint. One revised calculation sought by the NRC will be reviewed next week, the company said.
“None of the three issues is anticipated to lead to any design change in the plant as submitted by Westinghouse in December 2010,” Westinghouse said. Westinghouse expects final approval of the amended design in the fall, Perez said.
An NRC spokesman said earlier that issues cited in the agency release were not related to the agency’s review of Fukushima.
Four AP1000 units are under construction in China. Other US companies that want to build the reactors are Duke Energy, NextEra Energy, Progress Energy and the Tennessee Valley Authority.