Owners of new reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina told regulators this week they are putting competition aside and working together to make the first U.S. commercial nuclear projects in a generation as safe as possible.
“We are joined together in this task and we have commitments as licensees to continue our collaboration,” said Ron Jones, the vice president of new nuclear operations for S.C. Electric & Gas Co., which is adding two reactors to its V.C. Summer plant.
Jones and officials from Southern Nuclear, which is adding two similar reactors to Plant Vogtle in Burke County, met with senior U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission staffers to provide a status report on both projects.
Because both utilities are using the modern Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor design, sharing information has helped improve oversight and compliance at both projects, he said.
“We have folks in our organizations, who, literally, talk to each other between the two projects on a daily basis,” he said. “That is not unlike what we see on the operating side of the industry, where we focus on that and incorporate lessons learned.”
Pete Ivey, Southern Nuclear’s vice president for regulatory affairs, said that level of collaboration will also benefit federal regulators who evaluate future nuclear licensing requests.
Having two reactor construction sites so close together in location and scope is unusual, he added. “It is unique in our industry in the context of using a similar design to build two sites simultaneously.”
Larry Burkhart, a senior project manager with the NRC’s Division of New Reactor Licensing, said maintaining a high level of communication with both licensees helps streamline the process of evaluating license amendment requests and other issues.
“It help us to understand each other in terms of construction design and safety issues,” he said. “I think we all recognize the importance.”
Vogtle’s new units are expected to go online in 2016 and 2017, while the V.C. Summer reactors are
scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2017 and 2018.
Although much of the public attention on both projects has focused on cost issues and construction schedules, Ivey assured NRC staffers that the main focus was something entirely different.
“Most people will be very surprised that our primary focus, the vast majority of our time, is safety quality and compliance,” Ivey said. “We understand, at the end of the day, if you get those things right, the schedule and cost issues will follow. “
The briefing, held Monday at the NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters, was made accessible to The Augusta Chronicle via audio conference.