GE Hitachi gets ESBWSR design certification from NRC

Two U.S. utilities have referenced the 1600 MW design in their license applications for new reactors

approvedIn a long and winding, and expensive, path, GE Hitachi this week finally got what it came for from the NRC. The agency approved the design certification of the company’s 1600 MW Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR).  The reactor features passive safety systems and a simpler design than its predecessor the 1350 MW ABWR which has a design legacy that goes back over four decades.

In the U.S. DTE is referencing the ESBWR for its license application for the FERMI 3 reactor in Michigan and Dominion is referencing it in its application for a new unit at North Anna in Virginia.  Both licenses are expected to get NRC decisions in 2016, but construction dates have not been firmly committed to by either utility. Demand for electricity, consistent with continued economic recovery, and long-term prospects for natural gas prices, will affect the futures of both projects.

Entergy suspended its license applications for two ESBWRs in Mississippi and two more in  Louisiana in 2009. Instead, it chose to uprate an existing plant in 2012. It increased the power rating of its Grand Gulf reactor to 1443 MW, a 19% jump, making it one of the biggest expansions of its kind in the U.S.

While GE Hitachi has explored international markets, only a potential site in India has any history in terms of development.  It’s linked to plans for a heavy industry manufacturing center that would, among other things, make reactor components. Progress will depend on India’s nuclear liability law which currently makes it impossible for U.S. nuclear energy firms to do business there.

The path to design certification was rocky for both GE Hitachi and the NRC. Last January GE Hitachi settled, without any determination of liability, that it made false claims to the NRC about a nuclear reactor component for the ESBWR design.

According to Reuters, the NRC required that  the design certification show that vibrations caused by the steam dryer will not result in damage to a nuclear plant.

Reuters reported that the Justice Dept. alleged, as a result of the NRC’s review, that GE Hitachi concealed known flaws in its analysis of the steam dryer, and falsely represented that it had properly analyzed the dryer, and that it had verified the accuracy of its modeling using reliable data.

The company paid the government $2.7 million as part of the settlement.

Other reactor designs not moving forward

The NRC’s action on the ESBWR is likely the last one that will take place for quite some time. According to a “Fact Box” of the status of other reactor designs compiled by Reuters, no action is scheduled by the NRC on the Areva EPR, a 1600 MW design nor for Mitsubishi’s APWR, a 1700 MW design.

At one time Areva had four utilities referencing its design, but they fell by the wayside due to a combination of the great recession and tumbling natural gas prices. A plan for expansion of the Comanche Peak site with two new units for a whopping 3400 MW crashed with the collapse of Luminant’s parent company’s debt structure.

As far as small modular reactors are concerned, the NRC notes that no SMR firms have yet submitted design review applications for either light water designs or fast reactors.

The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design received its safety certification from the NRC two years ago and is being used to build four reactors in the U.S. and four more in China. While the Chinese government does not rely on the NRC’s safety review, the U.S. process is considered to be a “gold standard” and opens the door for any reactor receiving it to access international markets.  The U.K. uses a similar process called the Generic Design Review which has been criticized by reactor vendors for its excessive costs and length of time needed to complete the process.

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5 Responses to GE Hitachi gets ESBWSR design certification from NRC

  1. Anuke says:

    1. It is not a “safety certification,” it is a “design certification.”
    2. In the UK, it is not a “General Design Review.” It is a Generic Design Assessment. And according to what I have read, there is a significant difference between the NRC’s design certification and the UK’s GDA. In the US, design certification is a legal process, involving a rulemaking that codifies elements of the design into the Code of Federal Regulations. Issues that are resolved during the certification process cannot be “re-litigated” in the review of a license application that references the certification (unless new information is provided on which to challenge the NRC’s assessment). The UK GDA does not have the same legal standing, and issues that are reviewed in that process are not legally “resolved.” As I understand it, the UK regulator is required to “take notice” of the outcome of the GDA, but is not legally bound by its conclusions.


  2. Ed Leaver says:

    Has S-PRISM fallen off the edge of the earth?


    • Anuke says:

      Although a preliminary safety assessment was performed by the NRC for PRISM back in the 1990s (see NUREG-1368), and other information has been provided to the NRC since that time, the PRISM (or S-PRISM) design has never been formally submitted to the NRC for design certification or any sort of regulatory approval. You can find documentation provided by GE/GE-Hitachi to the NRC in NRC’s ADAMS electronic library, under the docket number PROJ0674. (That’s a capital “O” before the J and the number zero after the “J.”


      • Ed Leaver says:

        Thanks anuke, Anuke. Full of all sorts of good cheer today, aren’t we? NRC ADAMS has precisely two essentially identical one-page documents under PROJ0674: RESPONSE TO U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION’S REGULATORY ISSUE SUMMARY 2010-03, “LICENSING SUBMITTAL INFORMATION FOR SMALL MODULAR REACTOR DESIGNS” (18 May 2010) and RESPONSE TO U.S. NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION REGULATORY ISSUE SUMMARY 2011-02, “LICENSING SUBMITTAL INFORMATION AND DESIGN DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES FOR SMALL MODULAR REACTOR DESIGNS”. In identical words, both politely inform GE-H Nuclear Energy’s Jerald Head to the effect

        The NRC staff plans to continue to interact with the Department of Energy and small modular reactor (SMR) designers over the next several years to identify and develop resolutions to policy, licensing, and key technical issues. Although the staff discusses a number of potential policy issues concerning many different types of SMR technologies in SECY-10-0034, “Potential Policy, Licensing, and Key Technical Issues for Small Modular Nuclear Reactor Designs,” dated March 28, 2010, we are primarily focused on our preparations related to the Next Generation Nuclear Plant program and integral pressurized water reactors. For fiscal years 2011 through 2012, the staff will, because of resource constraints, continue to limit interactions with the designers of other advanced reactor designs to occasional meetings or other non-resource intensive activities. Should you submit a design review application during this time, the staff will conduct an acceptance review of the application when it is received. The design review will commence once resources are available. While resource constraints may limit our interactions, we encourage your continued participation in generic activities related to SMRs and please keep us informed of your plans related to the development of PRISM-related design or licensing applications.

        My bold. Seriously. Presumably, one may surmise NRC’s 10 May 2010 response was to Mr. Head’s lengthy (508 pg) 21 April 2010 Submittal of Licensing Strategy Document for PRISM, Mr. Head’s follow-up the following year probably a brief inquiry as to whether NRC’s priorities or resources had changed, and NRC’s form-letter reply probably pretty much what he expected.

        Sounds like IFR has as many friends in high places today as it had twenty years ago.


  3. djysrv says:

    Food for thought – “To attract investment for new build projects, the nuclear industry needs licensing and permitting processes that are “predictable and stable, and which take account of context”, says Vanessa Jakovich, a senior associate at law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.”


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