. . . . Nuclear revival may not arrive on schedule
Charlotte Business Journal

September 4, 2009

By John Downey

As Duke Energy considers as much as a three-year delay in building the proposed Lee Nuclear Station, there are signs that the approval process for AP1000 — the reactor chosen for Lee and most new plants planned in the Southeast — may fall off schedule. At issue is certification of the reactor design for Plant Vogtle, the dual-reactor plant being built in Georgia by the Southern Co. The power industry hopes to cut licensing and construction times — and thus save money — by building plants on a few standardized reactor models. The idea is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can certify one standard reactor model for a plant and then subsequent plants using the same model will not need to get new certifications.

Westinghouse blamed
Vogtle is the lead plant for the wave that will be built on the AP1000. So a delay, if significant, could affect plants planned in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. An NRC spokesman tells the Augusta Chronicle it is too early to tell whether the current delay in approving some safety features will result in an overall delay in certification. But it is clear that the commission cannot now get its review of certain safety features accomplished by November as planned. The NRC blames Westinghouse Electric Co., designer of the AP1000, for the delay. In a letter last week to Westinghouse, the NRC’s New Reactor Licensing division complains the company has been slow to submit “necessary design information” on engineered safety features. And it says the information, when submitted, “failed to resolve the long-standing fundamental questions.”

Missed deadline
The schedule for the review had already been delayed once. But in June, the NRC says, Westinghouse missed a new deadline. And more delays followed, according to the letter: The staff received the subject submittal at the end of July 2009…. The submitted information failed to resolve the long-standing fundamental questions related to the design basis debris source term, the limiting system flows, in-vessel testing, the magnitude of debris bypassing the sump screens, and the choice of the limiting accident scenario. The staff had planned to meet with Westinghouse on August 25, 2009; however, that meeting has been delayed at your request until the week of August 31, 2009. Given the fundamental nature of the questions raised by the recent submittal and the delay in meeting with the NRC on resolving these issues, the staff is no longer able to support an Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards briefing … in November.

Charlotte’s stake
The delay may be nothing more than a hiccup. But business leaders and economic developers in Charlotte may want to keep an eye on Duke’s plans and the progress of the AP1000. Economic developers have concentrated on attracting nuclear energy related companies to the region over the past couple of years. Those efforts have been successful. Westinghouse, the Shaw Power Group and Toshiba — partners in the AP1000 — all have growing presences here. The French company Areva SA also has important operation in the region. The growth in nuclear energy business here is related to the broader plan to turn Charlotte into a national energy hub.


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