FERMI III Set for Construction & Operating License

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) staff has recommended that the agency grant a combined construction and operating license (COL) to DTE Energy Co. for 1535 MW GE-Hitachi Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) at the FERMI site in Monroe County, Michigan. It is the first ESBWR to be referenced in a COL application that has reached this stage in terms of NRC action and the fifth entirely new reactor to essentially complete the COL process in the U.S.

DTE Energy told a nuclear industry trade group Feb 9 that while the utility has not made a decision to move forward with construction, it noted that the firm and its contractors devoted more than a quarter of a million hours to the licensing effort. It followed the completion of the design review for the reactor which was completed in September 2014.

Glen Tracy, director of NRC’s Office of New Reactors, said at the agency hearing the staff racked up 52,000 hours on the safety review and another 17,000 hours on the environmental review. The NRC is reimbursed for its costs by the licensing applicant.  As of August of 2014 the reimbursement rate for a professional engineer to review a license application was $279/hr.

This means that without having a commitment to construction, or the eventual revenue associated with a fully functioning nuclear power plant, DTE Energy had to shell out $14,040,000 for the safety review and another $4,590,000 for the environmental costs. Add to that 250,000 hours burned by DTE engineers and you are talking about real money.

The cost of the reactor, at an estimated $5,000/Kw, which is low by global standards, will be $7.67 billion.  Since this is the first-of-a-kind construction, a more conservative cost rate, speculatively set at $6,500/Kw, comes out to $9.98 billion.  Add in the balance of plant costs and the whole project easily approaches $12 billion.  That’s a bet the company number which is why the firm, relying on the “prudent investor” principle, will check and recheck everything before breaking ground.

The ESBWR includes in its design passive safety factors . it can safely cool itself with no AC electrical power or human intervention for up to seven days.

NRC Chairman Stephen Burns did not announce a date for a hearing on the staff recommendation, but did commit the agency to “issuing a final decision promptly.”

NRC weighs in on Callaway License

The staff of the NRC is recommending that the license of Ameren’s Callaway plant in Missouri be granted a 20-year license extension.  The current license expires in 2024.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment has filed a protest with the NRC that its waste confidence decision about long-term storage of spent fuel at reactors is not adequate.

Sarah Kovaleski, Director of Engineering Design at the Callaway plant, told local news media that all the technical and regulatory requirements for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel will be met.

The NRC commissioners will now vote on the license extension application.  No timetable is set for that action.

Ft. Calhoun closer to exiting NRC oversight

The OPPD board said in a statement Feb 11 that the utility expects its Ft. Calhoun nuclear power station to be released from detailed NRC scrutiny soon. Flood waters and regulatory compliance issues kept the plant closed for nearly two years reopening in 2013.

The plant was the subject of considerable regulatory attention after the utility initially balked at an NRC order in 2010 to raise the level of flood protection. Subsequently, after complying with the NRC’s order, a major flood along the Missouri river in 2011 came within a foot or so of breaching not only the improved flood barriers, but also an extra inflatable boom around the reactor building.

A bizarre media circus briefly erupted when rumors spread that the plant had suffered a major accident due to the flood.  In point of fact, the reactor was shut down at the time and there was no accident.  A famous wire service photo showed the plant surrounded by flood waters which also led to several incidents of news organizations buzzing the plant for photos until the FAA issued a statement reminding the public that the airspace over a nuclear rector is restricted.

OPPD withdrew a plan to uprate the power for the plant, and instead found itself facing a long list of safety and regulatory compliance requirements which the NRC said needed to be addressed for the reactor to restart.  That milestone was achieved in December 2013. OPPD spent a reported $180 million clearing a list of 450 items cited by the NRC.

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