Starting a Reactor Design Review the Right Way

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

A few months ago, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. gave the NRC an application to certify the company’s Advanced Power Reactor 1400 design for use in the U.S. We’d been having “pre-application” discussions with the company since April 2010.

In September of this year, the company felt its information was ready for a full review. After our acceptance check of the application, however, we’ve decided the process should remain at the pre-application stage.

While most of the application’s sections and chapters have enough information for the NRC to review, there are important exceptions. For example, our technical experts don’t see a clear path for predictably and efficiently reviewing important areas such as instruments and controls, how human actions affect reactor operations, and assessing risk.

We also didn’t see enough detail for some specific technical issues, such as reactor coolant pump design, potential corrosion of some internal reactor parts and protecting plant staff from radiation. Other areas referenced technical reports to be submitted in the future.

At this point it’s the company’s decision on how to proceed – if they wish to continue pre-application meetings and related discussions, we’ll certainly do so. The formal review, however, will have to wait until the NRC is satisfied the application has enough information for our staff to create a reasonable, reliable schedule and milestones for the certification process.

Let’s be clear – none of this represents any sort of NRC technical conclusion regarding the Korean reactor design. We’re well aware that other countries are building or considering the design, and we continue to work with a multinational group discussing this and other new reactor designs. This decision doesn’t set any precedents, either. We’ve previously decided against accepting the initial applications for both a U.S.-based design certification and a new reactor operating license. The NRC also followed this path for a couple of applications to renew existing U.S. reactor licenses.

The bottom line is that the NRC must ensure proposed reactor designs can meet our safety requirements. We owe it not only to the public to do that job properly, but also to applicants to do so effectively and predictably. The best way to do that is to have the appropriate information in hand before we begin our work.

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

11 thoughts on “Starting a Reactor Design Review the Right Way”

  1. As we noted in the post, the NRC participates in what’s called the Multinational Design Evaluation Program, which shares information and approaches to reviewing new reactor designs. While the program aims to achieve consistent review practices and standards, the participants agreed at the start that each country retains the legal authority to approve a design’s use within its borders.

    Scott Burnell

  2. All designs consider for use in the USA (foreign or otherwise) must to be approved for safety! This is especially important since many globally look to the NRC as one of the most trusted regulators to review designs, besides as the Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster at Fukushima has shown even a nuclear accident in another country can have huge healthy implications upon the USA, since radioactive pollution spreads globally via both the Jet Stream and/or ocean currents.

    BTW, should any reactors get built in the USA, it will generate jobs in the USA for many decades both during its operation and also during the many decades of decommissioning all at ratepayer expense, since the Utilities and their shareholders profit on all activities at the nuclear power plant.

  3. Reactor safety should always thump shoddy innovation, especially when reactor safety is concerned, despite what Big Utilities say, (since in the USA) they are not responsible for reactor accidents since they are indemnified by the Price-Anderson Act.

    Snip From Wiki
    The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act (commonly called the Price-Anderson Act) is a United States federal law, first passed in 1957 and since renewed several times, which governs liability-related issues for all non-military nuclear facilities constructed in the United States before 2026. The main purpose of the Act is to partially indemnify the nuclear industry against liability claims arising from nuclear incidents while still ensuring compensation coverage for the general public. The Act establishes a no fault insurance-type system in which the first approximately $12.6 billion (as of 2011) is industry-funded as described in the Act. Any claims above the $12.6 billion would be covered by a Congressional mandate to retroactively increase nuclear utility liability or would be covered by the federal government. At the time of the Act’s passing, it was considered necessary as an incentive for the private production of nuclear power — this was because electric utilities viewed the available liability coverage (only $60 million) as inadequate.[1]

    In 1978, the Act survived a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court case Duke Power Co. v. Carolina Environmental Study Group (see below). The Act was last renewed in 2005 for a 20-year period.

  4. Great news that hopefully points to additional reviews of ALL applications and especially those that have anything to do with reactor safety. As new applicants (from any country) seek approval from the NRC, the NRC must refrain from granting any acceptance until these concepts are proven to be safe in the real world not just in a small laboratory experiment. Starting small and building upon real world success is far safer that building big and seeing what happens and since the USA cannot afford a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima, the NRC must guarantee that all approved designs are safe in the real world, not just under laboratory conditions.

    The replacement steam generator RSG debacle at San Onofre is a perfect example of what can happen when major review processes are “gamed” by Utilities that not only seek fewer delays, but also want to severely limit public scrutiny in the entire review process!

    This is a key issue because without un-redacted documents made public, those seeking to protect ratepayers from getting stuck with engineering debacles are essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, since Utilities only provide *sanitized* redacted documents.

    It is also important to mention that it is not only CA citizen groups like ANC and locally the [Coalition to Decommission San Onofre][1] (CDSO) are having problems with the CPUC but even CA Senator Boxer has now be forced to ask the NRC for [a full and complete set of San Onofre documents][2] having received informational packets from them with two different document listings, many of which were not initially provided, even though Senator Boxer Chairs the Committee on Environmental and Public Works, which oversee the NRC!



  5. How refreshing to see such a commitment: start the design review of a nuclear power plant’s reactor the right way!
    And “the NRC must ensure proposed reactor designs can meet our safety requirements” is very timely. Considering that already the third year is passing after the loss of three reactors in Fukushima Daiichi. The only problem I have that I’m not sure that the NRC safety requirements are good enough. I’m not sure that they include the prevention of ignition of the reducing reaction of cladding-coolant reaction in any circumstances or not? Also, I’m not sure that these safety requirements include the preservation of the containment in the event of a worst case detonation of generated Hydrogen, considering that the reducing reaction consumed all the zirconium inventory.
    For a little help: Zircaloy Mass in Fuel Cladding [kg / lb] 16,465/ 36,300 in the PWR and 40,580 /89,500 in BWR from NRC-2012-0022-0002 and NRC-2012-0022-0003. Zr (91) + 2 H2O (36) = ZrO2 (123) + 2 H2 (4) + 5 MJ/kgZr Water required for complete reaction for the PWR 16,465 * 36/91 = 6513,6 kg or about 6.5 m3 (available), it produces 16,465 * 123/91 ZrO2 = 22,255 kg zirconium dioxide and 16,465 * 4/91 = 723.7 kg Hydrogen and 82,325 MJ heat. For a 10 second firestorm duration it gives 8GW power… or twice the full power of the reactor… Water required for complete reaction for the BWR 40,580 * 36/91 = 16053.6 kg or about 16 m3 (available), it produces 40,580 * 123/91 ZrO2 = 54,850 kg zirconium dioxide and 40,580 * 4/91 = 1784 kg Hydrogen and 204,250 MJ heat. For a 10 second firestorm duration it gives 20GW power… or five-six times the full power of the reactor… The above back of the envelope calculated worst case scenario should be considered.
    Now if both of these requirements are the NRC’s safety requirements – to prevent the ignition of zirconium-steam reaction and enclose the reactor in a containment which withstands the detonation of such large amounts of Hydrogen mixed with the air – then I would say we can assure that we will have safe nuclear power plants.

  6. Has there been any thought given to creating an agency which could review reactor designs that would be approved for use by all members of the organization? I’m thinking something like France, Great Britain, japan, the U.s. etc.

  7. Or squash attempts to submit a pile of steaming …. papers where the NRC has to do design work instead of actual reviews

  8. Why is the NRC wasting even one minute on Foreign competition? We need to create jobs in America not be helping to create foreign jobs. The NRC need to focus on getting American not foreign designs certified.

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