Nuclear Briefs From the U.S., Canada, and Japan

This week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reinstated construction permits for Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Bellefonte units while it rescheduled its review of a construction and operating license of a planned UniStar project. The Canadian government, meanwhile, approved the first-phase design review of an advanced CANDU reactor, and a Japanese safety commission approved the restart of a major quake-hit generating facility.

NRC Reinstates Construction Permits for TVA’s Bellefonte Units

The NRC on Friday voted 3–1 to reinstate construction permits for TVA’s unfinished Unit 1 and 2 reactors at the 1,600-acre Bellefonte site near Scottsboro, Ala.

In a unique regulatory tactic, the commission chose to officially “terminate” the reactors so that the TVA can re-establish physical conditions and records of quality before the units can transition to a “deferred” status. The two-step approach provides assurance to the public that the regulatory body will scrutinize the plant and identify any issues before the TVA can move forward, the NRC said.

The agency had granted construction permits for Bellefonte’s two pressurized water reactors in 1974. By 1988, when TVA deferred completion of the plant, Unit 1 was 88% complete and Unit 2 was 58% complete. In 2006, having decided not to complete construction of the reactors, the TVA requested that the NRC withdraw the construction permits for the two units. In August 2008, however, the TVA asked the NRC to reinstate the permits, saying that changing power-generating economics had made completion of the units viable. If the construction permits had not been withdrawn, they wouldn’t have expired until 2011 (Unit 1) and 2014 (Unit 2).

The reinstatement of a withdrawn construction permit is unique. The commission said that after considering the technical, regulatory, and legal aspects of TVA’s request, it concluded that there was sufficient reason to reinstate the construction permits and that a more “conservative sequential approach would ensure the safety” of doing so. “We will start them out one step at a time so we can ensure the safety of these unfinished plants,” said NRC Chairman Dale Klein. “They will not be placed in a ‘deferred’ status until we are completely satisfied.”

But NRC Commissioner Gregory Jaczko, who issued the only dissenting vote to the staff’s recommendation that the NRC reinstate the permits, argued in a written opinion obtained by POWERnews that since the TVA had been granted withdrawal of the units’ construction permits, it essentially did not hold a license. He said that the publicly owned authority was therefore required by law to apply for a new construction permit.

“To say otherwise—to say that a withdrawal does not matter—is saying that not having a permit for over two years is the same as having had a permit for those two years,” he wrote. “Certainly, a regulatory agency should, at a minimum, defend its regulations and the need for them. Instead, ‘reinstating’ a non-existent [construction permit] clearly does the opposite.”

NRC Postpones Review of Nine Mile Point Project on Unistar’s Request

UniStar Nuclear Energy (UNE), the Baltimore-based company that applied for a combined construction and operating license (COL) for its Nine Mile Point project in late September 2008, earlier this month asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold off on that application’s review.

The NRC said it had cancelled environmental scoping meetings for the application originally planned for Feb. 25, but it intends to restart them later this year.

Unistar, a joint venture between Constellation Energy and Électricité de France, was seeking approval to build and operate an EPR at the Oswego, N.Y., site. According to the NRC, the companies said in a Feb. 9 letter that for the next few months, UniStar would be focusing its resources on the COL application for the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland, the “lead” application for the EPR. The companies asked the NRC to schedule its reviews accordingly.

The U.S. nuclear power industry has so far submitted 17 COL applications to the NRC since 2007. The regulatory commission said it is currently reviewing 13 of those applications.

Canadian Nuclear Body OKs Advanced CANDU Reactor for First-Phase Design Review

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) on Friday said that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) had completed the first phase of a pre-project design review for its Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR-1000), deeming it compliant with Canadian regulations. The CNSC has now begun Phase 2 of the two-step pre-project design review.

The review verifies the acceptability of a nuclear reactor design with respect to Canadian safety requirements and criteria. This includes the identification of fundamental barriers to licensing a new reactor design in Canada.

The second phase of the review for the ACR-1000 is expected to be completed in August 2009. The CNSC is also conducting Phase I reviews of AREVA’s EPR, to be completed by February 2010, and Westinghouse’s AP1000, which is slated to be completed by November 2009.

“We are confident in the merits of the ACR-1000 as it’s built on the fundamentals of our CANDU reactor design, including the CANDU 6, which has been built on-time and on-budget on four continents in the last 12 years,” said AECL President and CEO Hugh MacDiarmid in a press release Friday. “We want to build the first ACR-1000 on Canadian soil, so the Canadian regulator’s review process is extremely important to us.”

The ACR-1000, designed for a 2016 in-service date, is a third-generation 1,200-MW pressure tube reactor. According to the AECL, the light water–cooled reactor retains basic CANDU plant design features such as a modular, horizontal fuel channel core, a low-temperature heavy-water moderator, water-filled vault, two independent diverse shutdown systems, on-power fuelling, simple fuel design, and reactor building accessibility for on-power maintenance. It adds enhanced passive safety features, the company said.

Japan Safety Commission Approves Restart of Quake-Hit TEPCO Reactor

Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission on Thursday approved a request by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to restart the 1,356-MW Unit 7 of the world’s largest nuclear generating facility, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, almost 15 months after a major earthquake totally shut it down.

The commission’s approval followed a positive evaluation that claimed no safety hazards to restart the facility by the Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on Feb. 13. TEPCO, Asia’s biggest utility, must now seek approval from three local authorities— the city of Kashiwazaki, the village of Kariwa, and Niigata Prefecture—before restarting the unit.

The facility in central Japan has the fourth-largest generation capacity in the world; its seven reactors produce 8,212 MW collectively. The plant was shut down after a July 16, 2007, offshore earthquake—whose epicenter was only 11 miles away—caused a fire within and destroyed a transformer building. The Japanese trade ministry had then ordered plant operations halted indefinitely for ongoing safety checks.

“Using the knowledge obtained from the Niigata-Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake, we will continue our best efforts to make the nuclear power station much safer and much more resistant to disaster,” the company said in a press release Thursday.

Japan endures some 20% of the world’s powerful earthquakes—on Tuesday, for example, a quake with a preliminary magnitude of 3.3 jolted the Niigata Prefecture. Nevertheless, today 53 reactors provide some 30% of the country’s electricity. This capacity is expected to increase to at least 40% by 2017.

Before its shutdown, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant supplied 6% of Japan’s total power needs. TEPCO has been struggling with the loss of this capacity—nearly half its nuclear total. The company estimated that to the end of March 2008, the closure cost about $5.62 billion, about 75% of which went to increased fuel costs to replace the lost capacity.

TEPCO is now building the Hitashidoori nuclear plant in Aomori prefecture in Japan’s northernmost state. The first reactor is slated for commercial operation in December 2015.

Sources: NRC, AECL, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, TEPCO, POWERnews

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