The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday approved the design certification for the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors, clearing a final hurdle in the process to license and build two new units at Plant Vogtle.
“This is another key milestone for the Vogtle project and the nation’s nuclear renaissance,” Southern Co. Chairman Thomas A. Fanning said. “The NRC’s action confirms the AP1000 design is safe and meets all regulatory requirements.”
The $14.8 billion Vogtle project involves adding two AP1000 units to the existing ones at the power generating plant in Burke County.
The NRC has already evaluated the company’s request for an operating license that would authorize both the construction and operation of the first new commercial nuclear power reactors to be built in the U.S. in a generation.
The license could not be issued, however, until the NRC resolved all issues related to the AP1000 design.
“The commission now has all of the technical information needed to issue the Vogtle combined operating license,” Fanning said in a prepared statement.
Although preliminary site work has been under way for several years, the receipt of the operating license will set in motion a nuclear construction program that would bring the Unit 3 online in 2016 and Unit 4 online in 2017.
The AP1000 includes new features such as a passive cooling system in which cooling water stored above the reactor can be fed into the unit by gravity flow – without electricity, pumps or other traditional safeguards – in the event of an emergency.
Although the units have never been built in the U.S., there are four AP1000 units under construction in China.
The Sanmen I nuclear reactor in China’s Zhejiang province, more than 10,000 miles from Burke County, is about two years ahead of Vogtle in its construction schedule and is expected to become the world’s first AP1000 unit to go online when it is completed in 2013.
South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. also issued a statement Thursday praising the NRC for its steps in certifying the AP1000, which will be used in a second nuclear expansion at SCANA Corp.’s V.C. Summer Plant in South Carolina.
“Receiving final approval of the AP1000 design reaffirms our selection of this technology, which has undergone rigorous reviews to demonstrate that its design meets all regulatory requirements,” said Kevin Marsh, the chairman and CEO of SCANA.
SCE&G and its partner, Santee Cooper, anticipate receiving operating licenses this year or early in 2012 for units 2 and 3 in Jenkinsville, S.C., about 25 miles northwest of Columbia.
About 1,000 employees are engaged in pre-construction work at V.C. Summer, and about 1,750 workers are involved in similar activities at the Vogtle site in Georgia.
In addition to approving the reactor’s final design, the NRC also streamlined the process by which that certification goes into effect. It made the ruling effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, which will occur within seven business days.
NRC rules normally become effective 30 days after publication.