26 October 2005

New Nuclear Power Plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is evaluating its first applications to open new nuclear power plants in the past thirty years. The plants would be located on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi and Alabama.

According to the Matthew Wald of the New York Times in a story titled "Energy Group Plans to Build Nuclear Plants in Gulf States" (I missed it when it came out last month):

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 - A consortium of eight companies said on Thursday that it would spend about $100 million to prepare applications to build two nuclear reactors, in Mississippi and Alabama, a step that seems to move the industry closer to its first new reactor order since the 1970's.

The announcement was made by NuStart Energy, a consortium of companies that has substantial government financing. The consortium selected a site in Claiborne County, Miss., adjacent to Entergy Nuclear's Grand Gulf reactor, and another in northern Alabama, next to the Tennessee Valley Authority's long-abandoned Bellefonte nuclear construction project.

The Energy Department is committed to sharing costs to develop the two applications, and has agreed to pay the application fee, about $30 million, for one of them; the consortium is asking the department for money for the other. At the same time, Entergy announced that it would act on its own to develop an application for a reactor at a site next to its Waterford plant, in Louisiana.

The government, the reactor manufacturers and companies that own and operate existing reactors are testing a reformed licensing procedure, established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the 1990's to avoid the pitfalls of the 1970's and 80's, when several reactors were ordered and construction begun before design was completed or regulatory approval obtained.

Under the program, designs for the Grand Gulf reactor, to be made by General Electric, and the Bellefonte reactor, to be made by Westinghouse, will be mostly completed and also approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before substantial work is done at the sites.

According to a press release from the applicant, two different designs will be used:

Grand Gulf [Alabama] was designated for the General Electric Economic Simplified Boiling Water reactor design. Bellefonte [Mississippi] will be used for the Westinghouse Advanced Passive 1000 [Ed. and here and here] reactor design.

The way these designs fit into the larger picture of different types of reactor designs is discussed here. The key design elements of each of the two designs are as follows (emphasis added):

The Westinghouse AP1000 would have one-third fewer pumps, half as many valves, and more than 80 percent fewer pipes than current reactors. It can be built using modular units manufactured in a factory and transported to the reactor site, cutting construction time to three years.

It relies on a largely passive safety system. The cooling water for use in event of a build-up of excess heat is above the reactor core and uses gravity and natural circulation for emergency cooling if needed. In current reactors, cooling water must be pumped into the core.

General Electric's ESBWR has a 1,500 megawatt (MW) boiling water design, meaning the cooling water is not under pressure and is allowed to boil, with steam passing over the top of the reactor into the turbines.

ESBWR stands for economic simplified boiling water reactor, reflecting that its design removes many of the complexities of current reactors. It has 25 percent fewer pumps, valves, motors, piping and cabling and is designed to respond more quickly to a loss of coolant. Modular construction and a smaller plant size allow for faster construction.

The target start date is 2014.

The NuStart work is being funded under the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Power 2010 program to kickstart new nuclear energy construction. The federal government is sharing 50-50 the cost of the detailed engineering with NuStart.

The other four sites studied by NuStart were River Bend Station at St. Francisville, La., Savannah River Site owned by the Department of Energy near Aiken, S.C., Nine Mile Point Nuclear Plant in Scriba, N.Y., and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in southern Maryland.

Also today, Entergy announced it will prepare its own Construction and Operating License for its River Bend Station in St. Francisville, La.

Constellation Energy of Baltimore withdrew its Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant site in southern Maryland and its Nine Mile Point nuclear plant in Oswego, N.Y., from the NuStart finalist list after recently announcing a new joint venture with AREVA.

Ms. Kray stressed that all six finalist sites are excellent locations for an advanced nuclear unit from a financial and technical standpoint and likely will eventually be chosen for a new nuclear plant.

Members of NuStart Energy consortium are:

Constellation Energy, Baltimore, Md.
Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.
EDF International North America, Washington, D.C., the U.S. subsidiary of the large French electric utility
Entergy Nuclear, Jackson, Miss.
Exelon Generation, Philadelphia, Pa.
Florida Power & Light Company, Juno Beach, Fla.
Progress Energy, Raleigh, N.C.
Southern Company, Atlanta, Ga.
Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tenn.
GE Energy, Atlanta, Ga.
Westinghouse Electric Co., Pittsburgh, Pa.

It is too early to tell how the regulatory process will unfold for these applications. The idea appears to be to offer some sacrificial lambs, understanding that the process for these plants will be difficult, in order to establish a roadmap for future nuclear power plants to be built starting in the twenty-teens.

Hat tip to Astronuc at the Physics Forums.

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