NRC Quickly Applies New Information to Technical Reviews

When the NRC says we consider new and significant information, we mean it. The latest example came as we were finalizing our review of a design for a new nuclear plant called the Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor (ESBWR).

General Electric-Hitachi asked the NRC to review this new design in August of 2005. We did and issued a final safety evaluation report for the design in March 2011.

Our next step in the process would normally involve giving our Commissioners a draft final rule that would approve (or certify) the ESBWR. But that is not going to happen right now because new information has come to our attention that needs to be closely reviewed.

The new information came to light because of a request by an existing nuclear power plant, Grand Gulf. In September 2010, that plant asked the NRC for permission to, among other things, replace its steam dryer with a version designed using the same methods proposed for the ESBWR. (A steam dryer prevents excess moisture from damaging the plant’s turbine.) As we reviewed Grand Gulf’s request, we asked for more information. After we reviewed that additional information, we realized there were errors in the information we were initially given to determine how the ESBWR steam dryer would react when that design is operating.

Addressing these errors could mean the NRC will have to revise or supplement the safety evaluation report or the applicant might have to revise its design control document. Either of those options would delay a final decision on certifying the design. The agency will discuss this issue with General Electric-Hitachi on Jan. 31 at NRC headquarters in Rockville, Md.

Meanwhile, Detroit Edison has asked the NRC for a Combined License to build and operate an ESBWR next to the current Fermi nuclear power plant near Detroit. The agency must come to a final decision on design certification before we can complete our work on that license request.

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer