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NRC approves AP1000 reactor design

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Staff Report
Published Dec. 27, 2011

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has unanimously approved the design of Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000 reactor, the last hurdle South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. needed to clear in winning the panel’s OK to press ahead with expansion of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.

AP1000 nuclear reactor graphic
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently approved the design of Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000 reactor. (Submitted/Graphic)
Approval of SCE&G’s application to build the reactor units could come soon, since the NRC waived its customary 30-day waiting period and made the rule effective once it is published in the Federal Register sometime this week.

SCE&G and its state-owned partner, Santee Cooper, are building two AP1000, 1,100-megawatt units at the Jenkinsville power station in Fairfield County.

Investor-owned SCE&G is paying 55% of the estimated $9.8 billion price tag for the project. The Summer plant has one reactor unit, which went into operation in 1984, operated by SCE&G and Santee Cooper.

“Receiving final approval of the AP1000 design reaffirms our selection of this technology, which has undergone rigorous reviews to demonstrate that its design meets all regulatory requirements,” said Kevin Marsh, chairman and CEO of SCANA, parent of SCE&G.

Another energy provider, Southern Co., is seeking approval to build two AP1000 units at its Vogtle power plant along the Savannah River near Augusta, Ga.

Westinghouse estimates 3,000 jobs will be created at each construction site, “positively impacting America's manufacturing and construction industries with materials and labor expected to be provided from more than 20 states.”

Presently, about 1,000 employees are involved in preconstruction work at the Summer plant, located about 25 miles northwest of Columbia.

Westinghouse first sought approval of the AP1000 design in 2002 and the NRC certified the design in January 2006.

Since then, the AP1000 design has been modified to meet new and additional NRC requirements, including those that require it to withstand the impact of an aircraft crash on the shield building. The shield building is a steel-reinforced concrete structure approximately 3 feet thick that protects the steel containment vessel, which houses the reactor.

Both the shield building and the containment vessel are part of the passive safety systems in the AP1000 design. It allows it to safely shut down with no, or minimal, operator action and no AC power.

The design was recognized by the NRC as providing added capability that would allow the plant to survive a Fukushima-type event, Westinghouse said, referring to the March earthquake and tsunami that heavily damaged a commercial reactor unit in Japan.

“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 without significant release of radioactive materials,” said NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko.

Certification of the reactor design sets the foundation for the next generation of nuclear power plants in the United States, officials said.

The AP1000, which incorporates the use of modular construction, allows for the same design to be used at multiple sites. Presently, no two nuclear power plants in the United States have the same design, leading to higher construction and operating costs.

"The road to receiving design certification has been long and sometimes arduous," said Aris Candris, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric Co. "Now, our U.S. customers are one step closer to constructing AP1000 units and putting thousands to work to ultimately provide future generations with safe, clean and reliable electricity."

A design certification is valid for 15 years from the date of issuance and can be renewed for an additional 10 to 15 years.

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