American safety regulators gave the go-ahead today for the construction of two new nuclear power reactors.
The vote by the five-member commission brought to an end a regulatory process lasting almost four years that confirmed the safety of building two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. It is the first combined construction and operating licence issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
The review work of the NRC staff was celebrated by the commissioners in a confirmatory hearing today. Four commissioners voted to grant the licence, while chairman Gregory Jazcko abstained. He had wanted the licence issued on condition that Southern Company implement NRC recommendations developed in response to the Fukushima accident in Japan last year and said he “could not support issuing this licence as if Fukushima had not happened.”
The other commisisoners spoke to respectfully disagree with Jazcko. Kristine Svinicki said: “There is no amnesia individually or collectively regarding the events of 11 March 2011 and the ensuing accident at Fukushima.” She added that NRC staff did not recommend and did not support Jazcko’s idea of a condition being attached to the licence, “because we found it would not improve our systematic regulatory approach to Fukushima, nor would it make any difference to the safety of operating or planned reactors.”
Plant owner Southern applied to the NRC to build Vogtle units 3 and 4 in April 2008, and signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract with Westinghouse and its partner Shaw one week later. After a year the company had approval to begin limited construction work. The companies have now cleared and excavated the site, prepared for the concrete foundations of the reactor buildings, laid cooling water piping and put in place the foundations for the huge derrick crane for the simultaneous construction of two reactors.
The AP1000 is a modular design and assembly facilities at Vogtle have already made the containment vessel bottom head as well as the first containment vessel ring. They have also started on the biggest module of all, the 840 tonne CA-20, which creates spaces for used fuel storage, transmission, heat exchange and waste collection within the reactor building. ‘Major equipment’ such as steam generators and reactor vessels were ordered from Doosan of South Korea in June 2008 and work has started on the turbine island and cooling towers. A simulator for operator training was installed in November last year.
Once Southern is in possession of the actual licence itself – likely within ten working days – it will be allowed to begin the pouring of concrete for structures related to nuclear safety and the reactors can be said to be officially under construction. The 1107 MWe pressurized water reactors are slated for start-up in 2016 and 2017.