Nuclear Energy Insight Winter 2012
—After nearly four years of in-depth safety evaluations, the independent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a license for Southern Co. to build two reactors near Augusta, Ga. It’s the first license for a new commercial nuclear energy facility to be issued in the United States since 1978.
This is a historic day,” NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said after the NRC commissioners voted Feb. 9. “Today’s licensing action sounds a clarion call to the world that the United States recognizes the importance of expanding nuclear energy as a key component of a low-carbon energy future that is central to job creation, diversity of electricity supply and energy security.”
Southern submitted its license application for Plant Vogtle to the NRC in March 2008 and preliminary work at the site began in 2009. With the license in hand, Southern Co. can start work on safety-related portions of the facility.
The Vogtle permit is the first to be approved under the NRC’s combined construction and operating licensing regulations. Previously, nuclear energy facilities were licensed in a two-step process that required construction permits and operating licenses to be issued separately.
Part of the new process included a hearing in September 2011 to question NRC and Southern Co. staff about the proposed reactors. The staff reported spending about 31,000 hours on the project, involving “well over 100 engineers, scientists and technical specialists.” Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Co., responded in writing to nearly 500 questions from NRC staff. Southern Nuclear, NuStart (a group set up to demonstrate the NRC’s combined application process) and contractors spent “several hundred thousand man-hours” to develop the application and support its review.
The company expects the first reactor to begin operating in 2016 and the second in 2017. The reactors will power more than 1 million homes and businesses in Georgia. It will be the largest construction project in Georgia history, helping to jumpstart and sustain economic growth in the region while creating thousands of jobs.
“Our communities and our country will benefit from this more than $14 billion investment, representing 4,000 to 5,000 jobs on site during peak construction, and in the process creating more than 25,000 direct and indirect jobs by this project alone,” said Georgia Power President and CEO Paul Bowers.
The NRC approved the reactor design Vogtle will use, the Westinghouse AP1000®, in December.
“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,” NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said.
The reactor requires no operator intervention to maintain safety systems, which is why it is called “passive.” It allows natural forces such as gravity and air flow to power backup systems, instead of pumps and electric mechanisms, to ensure the reactors shut down safely in the case of an extreme event or natural disaster.
The AP1000 design for a 1,100-megawatt pressurized water reactor was originally certified in 2006. After the NRC imposed additional requirements for the design to withstand aircraft impacts, Westinghouse submitted a design amendment in 2007.
The AP1000 design is a product of a Department of Energy and industry cost-shared research and development program and is being built both in America and globally. The Energy Department is now embarking on a similar cost-shared program to develop innovative small-scale reactors for producing electricity and other uses.
Global development of nuclear energy will provide a significant economic boost to some 300 suppliers in 20 states. Westinghouse already has created 5,000 jobs in the United States to support construction of four reactors in China, and the project is providing lessons learned for the reactors under development in South Carolina and Georgia. About 35,000 U.S. jobs will support the projects in South Carolina and Georgia, according to an analysis by Westinghouse and The Shaw Group.
The reactor also will be used in new plants South Carolina Electric & Gas plans to build at its V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. NRC approval of the project’s license is expected early this year.
—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.