UK Grants Interim Design Approvals for EPR, AP1000

The UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Environment Agency today issued separate interim design approvals for AREVA and EDF’s EPR and Westinghouse’s AP1000 nuclear reactor designs, saying they are satisfied with how the designers of both reactors plan to resolve a number of remaining issues. The decision establishes that the reactors are acceptable for use in the UK, but reactor vendors must first clear remaining issues and take on board lessons learned from the Fukushima accident before being allowed to build new plants in the UK.

The decision means independent nuclear safety, security, and environment regulators have completed the planned assessment of the safety cases for the generic designs. As a result, the ONR issued interim design acceptance confirmations (iDAC) and the Environment Agency issued interim Statements of Design Acceptability (iSoDA).These separate interim acceptance confirmations cover reactor specification, operation, and environmental effects. A number of remaining issues remain to be resolved, however, and “neither reactor can be built in the UK until these issues are resolved,” ONR said on its website. The vendors must also plan to resolve issues identified in a report written by the UK’s chief inspector of nuclear installations, Mike Weightman, on the Fukushima accident.

“We have reached an important milestone. This interim acceptance confirms that all the plans on how the industry will resolve the outstanding issues are in place,” said Kevin Allars, Office for Nuclear Regulation director for nuclear new build. “This includes how they will address matters raised in the chief nuclear inspector’s report, published in October, on lessons learnt for the UK from Fukushima. It is for the designers now to satisfy us that they have resolved these issues. We will not allow industry to build the reactors until they have done so.”

The assessment was a challenging process that involved more than 60 expert engineers, scientists, and regulators, said Joe McHugh, the Environment Agency head of nuclear regulation in a statement.

The UK currently has 18 reactors that generate about 18% of its power. However, all but one will be retired by 2023, and the nation has been streamlining the approval process for new builds to ensure the first of some 19 GW of new generation plants will come online by about 2018.

AREVA plans to build two 1,600-MW EPRs for partner (and fellow state-owned French company) EDF at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Westinghouse is awaiting a reactor design selection by joint venture company Horizon, which consists of German firms E.ON and RWE—a decision that could come early next year.

The AP1000, the reactor designed by Toshiba’s Westinghouse, meanwhile, is pushing ahead in the U.S. market. Georgia Power and South Carolina Electric & Gas have proposed to build new nuclear plants with the reactor design. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is also close to approving a final rule certifying the amended design of the reactor. As of last week, three of five NRC commissioners had endorsed the design.

As in the U.S., in order to build a new reactor in the UK, reactor vendors must first gain approval for generic designs, and prospective operators of new power plants must also apply for and be granted a nuclear site license by the ONR as well environmental permits from the Environment Agency.

The Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process was implemented in 2007, and it requires regulators to identify significant issues while plans are on the drawing board. Four applicants—AREVA/EDF, Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (for its ESBWR), and AECL (ACR-1000)—had initially submitted applications to the UK’s Health & Safety Executive and Environment Agency. But AECL withdrew from the GDA process in April 2008, and GE-Hitachi requested temporary suspension in September 2008.

AREVA said the decision today was a “major step forward” for the EPR reactors selected by EDF in the UK. “The issuing of the IDAC follows the signing this past July between AREVA and EDF of a contract for the manufacture of heavy forgings required for critical components for the Hinkley Point C EPR reactor,” it added.

Sources: POWERnews, ONR, AREVA, Westinghouse

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