On Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a new reactor design developed by Toshiba Corporation subsidiary Westinghouse Electric Company.
Now that NRC has granted the Design Certification Amendment for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor Southern Company and SCANA Corporation expect to receive Combined Construction and Operating License (COL) for new nuclear units within months. Both companies plan to employ the AP1000 design for new units under development.
Southern Company through its subsidiary Georgia Power owns a 47% share of Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 under development in Waynesboro, GA and SCANA's South Carolina Electric & Gas Company plans to add two new units (2 and 3) at its V.C Summer Nuclear Station in Jenkinsville, S.C.
"The commission now has all of the technical information needed to issue the Vogtle COL," said Southern Company Chairman, President and CEO Thomas A. Fanning.
In the wake of Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident following a major earthquake earlier this year, mounting skepticism about the safety of nuclear power has greatly affected the U.S. energy sector in its pursuit to expand the country's nuclear power generation. This skepticism and growing controversy have led to energy companies to rethink and in some cases halt nuclear development and investment. In March, NRG Energy froze funding on nuclear development in Texas.
"The tragic nuclear incident in Japan has introduced multiple uncertainties around new nuclear development in the United States which have had the effect of dramatically reducing the probability that STP 3&4 can be successfully developed in a timely fashion,” said David Crane, President and CEO of NRG.
However, the AP1000's latest designs include safety features that take the Fukishima accident into consideration. The design calls for a 3 foot thick steel reinforced concrete "shield" strong enough to withstand the impact of plane crash which Westinghouse says is part of the passive safety systems that allow the reactor to shut down with "no, or minimal, operator action and no AC power".
The NRC's approval not only paves the way for the two utilities to move closer to a COL but also could spark a resurgence of nuclear power generation in the United States.
"This is another key milestone for the Vogtle project and the nation's nuclear renaissance," said Fanning.
Image Credit: tobo via Flickr.
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