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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

5 responses to “One step closer to the AP1000 finish line

  1. Joseph King August 12, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Recently, environmental groups filed contentions that the NRC’s task force report on Fukushima be taken into account before the NRC can act on the AP1000 Design Certification. These groups believe the environmental impact statement (EIS) for AP1000 fails to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act and issuing a design certification for AP1000 before a supplemental EIS is complete would be illegal.

    Will this contention be reviewed by the Atomic Safety Licensing Board or the Commission? What is the time limit to rule on this contention? Can the NRC staff still work on the final rulemaking during this time? If the NRC staff has to issue a supplemental EIS, how much time will this add to the process to complete the AP1000 final approval since the Commission seems to be having “challenges” with the task force recommendations on Fukushima when I read the Commission Vote Sheets?

    • Moderator August 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      The NRC will review the groups’ submissions and respond appropriately in each current proceeding. If one of these submissions falls under the “late-filed contention” category it goes to the various ASLB panels. The administrative law judges will examine whether the relevant requirements have been met before deciding on whether to incorporate the issues into the existing proceedings. If one of these submissions is styled as an addition to the previous petition to suspend all new reactor and license renewal activity, it will be handled under that process. The petition itself was made available to all the parties in the related proceedings so everyone had the opportunity to respond. The Commission has been considering the petition for several weeks.

      It’s useful to consider the agency’s repeated statements that any Fukushima-related regulatory changes will apply to all U.S. reactors. It’s also important to remember the task force report’s very direct statements regarding the AP1000 certification process:

      “By nature of [its] passive designs and inherent 72-hour coping capability for core, containment, and spent fuel pool cooling with no operator action required, the … AP1000 designs [has] many of the design features and attributes necessary to address the Task Force recommendations. The Task Force supports completing [the] design certification rulemaking activities without delay.”

      Scott Burnell

      • Joseph King August 15, 2011 at 8:08 am

        I was not asking about other proceedings. I am only asking about the AP1000. You wrote quite a few sentences, but you did not answer my questions.

        Please answer my questions, directly and simply.

  2. Moderator August 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    If a thorium-based reactor were submitted for NRC review and licensing, we would review it – and if approved – regulate it per our existing processes. However, to date, no one has submitted a thorium-based reactor for NRC review.

    Scott Burnell

  3. asparaguscutterClyde H Stagner August 11, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    A moritorium on reactors except Thorium would be great to behold-no meltdowns-a use for all those used fuel rods. A nation that developed the atomic bomb surely has the technological and scientific skills to provide this nation with the safest nuclear electrical power available. What is NRC’s position on Thorium reactors?

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