Dominion to Revert to ESBWR as Preferred Nuclear Reactor Technology for North Anna Unit 3

Dominion subsidiary Virginia Power may choose to use a GE-Hitachi Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) instead of a Mitsubishi Nuclear Energy Services (MNES) Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (APWR) for a third nuclear unit proposed at its North Anna site in Virginia, the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing on Friday.

Dominion had in November 2007 filed an application for a combined construction and operation license (COL) with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build and operate an ESBWR at North Anna. In 2009, however, it announced it had not been able to enter into an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) agreement with GE-Hitachi because the parties were unable to reach commercially acceptable terms. Dominion later selected MNES’ APWR as its preferred technology instead.

The SEC filing submitted on Friday says that Virginia Power has not yet committed to building a new nuclear unit at North Anna, but if it decides to build the new unit, it must first receive a COL from the NRC, approval from the Virginia Commission, certain environmental permits, and other approvals. The company may amend its COL application to reflect the ESBWR technology preference the end of 2013 to receive a COL by about late 2015, it says.

In a statement to POWERnews on Monday, Dominion said it had already notified the NRC about the proposed technology switch for the possible Louisa County reactor. GE-Hitachi, meanwhile, has teamed with Fluor for the North Anna Unit 3 project, recently signing a fully negotiated EPC contract that Dominion is expected to approve once the NRC issues a COL for the new unit and Dominion formally decides to proceed with the project.

The decision to switch technologies came after MNES told Virginia Power it "will not renew its ongoing working agreement" for a new APWR at North Anna, Dominion told POWERnews.

But the Dominion decision was also based on "progress made by GE-Hitachi towards obtaining federal approval of its design and because the contract enhancements agreed to are expected to benefit customers and stakeholders over the planned 60-year life of the new unit in comparison to other technologies evaluated," the utility said. The ESBWR unit would add about 1,470 MW net and offers a "simpler design in comparison to other technologies, including passive gravity-based safety features," it said.

Dominion has always "thought highly" of GE-Hitachi and Mitsubishi designs, Dominion Chair and CEO Thomas Farrell said. "The progress GE-Hitachi has made over the last four years in refining its design, moving toward NRC approval and willingness to provide contract enhancements that will benefit the company and its customers has led us to this decision. … Mitsubishi has been a great partner and we appreciate the work that the company has put into the North Anna Unit 3 project. We wish them well.”

See “The Evolution of the ESBWR” in POWER’s November 2010 issue for more about GE-Hitachi’s third-generation reactor.

Sources: POWERnews, POWER, Dominion

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

Note: This story was originally published on April 29