One step closer to the AP1000 finish line

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has recently reached two milestones related to the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design, but we’re still months away from any final decisions on these matters.

The first milestone deals with the NRC’s review of the design itself, to see if it can be approved, or certified, for U.S. use. Certification is required before the NRC can consider licenses to build and operate the design. The agency’s Office of New Reactors completed its technical work on the AP1000 by issuing a 1,500-page Final Safety Evaluation Report (FSER) last week – it will be available on the NRC’s document database under accession number ML112061231.

The technical review leads to the final step, where the agency issues a rule that declares the design certified. The New Reactors staff began this process by issuing a proposed rule in February, and the public provided more than 13,000 comments on that rule through early May. The staff are accounting for those comments, as well as information Westinghouse submitted after the proposed rule was issued.

The staff must draft a final rule based on all that information and provide the rule to the agency’s five Commissioners to consider and vote on; this step is expected to occur in the next few weeks. The Commissioners’ vote, expected by the end of the year, will provide direction to the staff that determines if and when the NRC finishes the certification process and approves the AP1000.

The second milestone involves the first Combined License application that uses the AP1000, for the Vogtle site in Georgia. The New Reactors staff, based on their AP1000 work, completed their technical review of safety issues for the Vogtle project and issued a separate FSER last week. That document, combined with a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, marks the end of the staff’s review. As with design certification, however, it’s not the end of the licensing process.

The agency’s rules call for a “mandatory hearing” to examine whether the staff’s work supports the legal conclusions necessary to issue a license. The Commissioners are going to conduct that hearing, based on the Vogtle FSER and environmental review, later in September. The Commissioners will consider the results of the hearing when rendering a decision late this year on whether the conclusions can be made. If the AP1000 final certification rule has been approved, the Commissioners will issue their decision immediately. If the rule is still under discussion, the Commissioners must hold their decision until the rule is approved.

The bottom line is that the NRC still has months of work to do before either the AP1000 or the Vogtle license can be approved.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer