At an NRC pace
Second ESBWR license moves throuigh costly process
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has completed the reviews for a license to build and operate a General Electric Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at Dominion Resources' North Anna site near Mineral, Virginia.
If the Combined License is approved by the commission following hearings expected later this year, it will be the second construction and operating license for what GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy describes as the world’s safest approved reactor design.
Completion of the Final Safety Evaluation Report for the North Anna license was announced Thursday with the NRC stating there are no safety aspects that would preclude issuing the license for construction and operation of the proposed reactor, adjacent to two operating reactors about 40 miles northwest of Richmond.
An earthquake review
The review included a seismic analysis that included data from the Aug. 23, 2011, 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Mineral, “resulting in both units safely shutting down automatically,” Dominion spokesman David Botkins said in a statement.
“The evaluation is the culmination of much hard work that looked at all aspects of nuclear safety,” he said.
Just how much work was described by Glenn Tracy, director of the NRC’s Office of New Reactors, at a February 2015 NRC hearing on DTE Energy's request for a license to build and operate an ESBWR at its Fermi site midway between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.
The license, the first for an ESBWR, was issued that spring.
Millions in regultory costs
Tracy said the NRC "staff has expended approximately 52,000 hours on the safety review and another 17,000 hours on the environmental review, which involved well over 1,000 engineers, scientists and technical specialists”
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said the safety review resulted in a total billed cost of $13,899,060, and the environmental review resulted in a cost billed to DTE Energy of $4,464,853.
Peter Smith, director of nuclear development at DTE Energy, said Michigan's largest Utility and its key contractors -- led by GE Hitachi -- have spent “more than a quarter-million man-hours” on the project.
Dominion Virginia Power submitted a license application for North Anna in November 2007, following NRC issuance of an Early Site Permit for North Anna. The agency supplemented the permit’s environmental review for the proposed North Anna reactor in March 2010.
Hearings in 2017
The NRC said staff will provide the North Anna safety report and the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the application to the Commission for the mandatory hearing phase of the licensing process.
During the hearing, expected to take place later this year, commissioners will examine whether the staff’s review supports the findings necessary to issue a license. Following the hearing, the Commission will vote on whether to authorize the staff to issue the license.
GE Hitachi, formed in 2007 and 60% owned by GE, guided Dominion through the licensing process under a multi-year contract, providing dozens of jobs at the venture's Castle Hayne headquarters.
"We congratulate Dominion on another positive step in the process to obtain a construction and operating license for the ESBWR, the world’s safest approved reactor design,” said Jon Ball, executive vice president, Nuclear Plant Projects, GE Hitachi.
With its advanced, true passive safety systems, the ESBWR is the world’s safest approved nuclear reactor design, based on core damage frequency, GE Hitachi explained. The reactor can cool itself for more than seven days with no on-site or off-site AC power or operator action.
Economic simplified describes the safety system's use of about 25% percent fewer pumps and mechanical drives than reactors with active safety systems, the venture said, adding the design offers the lowest projected operating, maintenance and staffing costs in the nuclear industry on a per-kilowatt basis.
Dominion will make a decision on whether to build the reactor “sometime in the future” after the license has been issued, Botkins said.
-- Jim Brumm