Untangling Foreign Involvement in New Reactors

Scott Burnell
Public Affairs Officer

For the second time in two years, the NRC’s administrative law judges have offered a decision on what role overseas companies can play in building and operating new U.S. nuclear power plants.

stpIn this most recent case, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board concluded that Toshiba’s participation in the South Texas Project new reactor project south of Houston is acceptable.

When Congress created the Atomic Energy Act, it included language that prohibits “foreign ownership, control or domination” of nuclear facilities. In an August 2012 decision, the Board examined a company applying for a new reactor at the Calvert Cliffs site in Maryland. That decision concluded the company was 100 percent foreign-owned and therefore ineligible for a reactor construction and operation license.

The South Texas case presents a different set of facts. The company applying for two new reactors, Nuclear Innovation North America, is a joint venture. A U.S. utility, NRG Energy, owns about 90 percent of NINA. Toshiba’s North American subsidiary owns the rest.

The NRC has previously approved joint ownership of U.S. reactors where the foreign partner owned more than 10 percent. In the South Texas application, however, the NRC technical staff determined in May 2013 that Toshiba’s overall financial support of the project equaled improper control or domination.

The Board’s decision on the South Texas new reactor application explores some previously uncharted territory. Legal precedent on foreign ownership almost exclusively refers to transferring the licenses of existing reactors. Those license transfers largely have been made in the context of ownership percentage. The Board’s decision applies the terms “control or domination” to the South Texas arrangement.

The Board relied on the NRC’s existing standard review plan to resolve the “control or domination” question. The ultimate decision is based on the South Texas application’s corporate ownership structure and other measures. The Board concluded that those measures meet the review plan’s aim of ensuring U.S. control of safety-related decisions.

Both the NRC staff and the groups opposing the South Texas new reactors have the opportunity to appeal the Board’s decision to the five-member Commission in charge of the NRC. A final decision on the South Texas proposal will take a couple more years due to ongoing technical reviews.

Closing In on Finishing the ESBWR Design Review

Michael Mayfield
Director, Advanced Reactor and Rulemaking Program

After a lot of technical discussions, the NRC is ready to take the next step in considering whether GE-Hitachi’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor meets our standards for U.S. use.

esbwrWe’ve been reviewing this new reactor design for several years. This design includes new types of safety systems that would use gravity to direct cooling water into the core during an emergency, even when electrical power is lost. Our review path took a major turn in 2011.

In March of that year we issued our technical conclusions on the design. The NRC then drafted a regulation that would approve the ESBWR, but later in 2011, we received additional information related to the steam dryer design that made us pause. (The steam dryer prevents excess moisture from damaging the plant’s turbine.)

We spent 2012 and 2013 making sure we had all the necessary information from GE-Hitachi on the ESBWR steam dryer design.  We’ve completed the review of the additional steam dryer design information and now have what we need to complete the design certification.

The NRC expects to seek public comment on a supplemental proposed certification rule next month and to send a draft final rule to the five-member Commission in July. This process could lead to final certification of the ESBWR later this year.

Utilities interested in new reactors can reference NRC-certified designs to simplify parts of their license reviews. The utilities applying for licenses to build ESBWRs, Detroit Edison in Michigan and Dominion in Virginia, will have to update their applications to account for any changes to the design.

Our letter to GE-Hitachi on these developments is available in the NRC’s electronic document database.



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