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Plant Vogtle engineers gain insight from similar reactors being built in China

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SHELL BLUFF, Ga. — Even before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses the addition of two reactors at Plant Vogtle, major non-nuclear components of the project are already taking shape in Burke County.

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Workers at Plant Vogtle assemble the steel bottom head of the containment vessel for Unit 3. It is being assembled in a bowl-like fashion because engineers in China building the same type of reactor had problems flipping the structure.  Chris Thelen/Staff
Chris Thelen/Staff
Workers at Plant Vogtle assemble the steel bottom head of the containment vessel for Unit 3. It is being assembled in a bowl-like fashion because engineers in China building the same type of reactor had problems flipping the structure.

“We’re on schedule, even if we can’t begin full nuclear construction until we have our combined operating license,” said Todd Terrell, Southern Co.’s nuclear development communication director, during a site tour Tuesday.

Company officials believe the license will be issued in December and are pushing ahead with other facets of the $14.8 billion expansion, including assembly of a massive steel bowl that will become the bottom of the containment vessel for Unit 3.

Unlike the original Vogtle project, which required 14,000 workers, the expansion will require a peak workforce of just 3,500 who will assemble prefabricated components imported from Asia and Europe.

The streamlined assembly will use one of the world’s newest reactor designs – the Westinghouse AP1000 – whose features include an emergency cooling water supply above each containment vessel that can be activated without electricity or pumps.

Although the AP1000 has never been built in the U.S., Vogtle’s engineers are gaining valuable insight from China, the only place in the world where AP1000 units are already under construction.

The Sanmen I nuclear reactor in China’s Zhejiang province, more than 10,000 miles from Burke County, is expected to become the world’s first AP1000 unit to go online when it is completed in 2013. It is one of four such units already under way in China.

“Those projects are 18 to 24 months ahead of us,” Terrell said. “But we are watching the progress of those units and are benefiting from any lessons to be learned.”

Because all AP1000 reactors use an identical design and involve identical parts from the same suppliers, Southern Nuclear has stationed observers in China to watch for any issues that might ward off complications with the Vogtle project.

One change that has already occurred at Vogtle was the process used to build the containment vessel’s bottom head.

The Chinese built the first one upside down, but challenges associated with flipping the dome-shaped structure over to install it prompted a decision to build other ones right-side up.

Engineers at Vogtle followed that lead, and the bottom head for Unit 3 is now being assembled in a bowl-like fashion.

Vogtle’s units 3 and 4 are expected to begin producing electricity in 2016 and 2017. In addition to 1,100 megawatts per unit, the project is also expected to generate $35 million per year in property taxes for Burke County and about 800 permanent jobs.

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SCEagle Eye
875
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SCEagle Eye 11/16/11 - 12:46 pm
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The AP1000 reactor hasn't

The AP1000 reactor hasn't been "certified" by the NRC so isn't licensed to be built. The certification, if approved by the NRC Commission, may well be challenged in court. As the construction license for the new Vogtle units is dependent on the AP1000 situation, there could be big delays facing this project, which was undertaken by Southern Company knowing that it was assuming a big risk by prematurely starting construction.

Little Lamb
43990
Points
Little Lamb 11/16/11 - 01:02 pm
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SCEagle Eye wrote: The

SCEagle Eye wrote:

The certification, if approved by the NRC Commission, may well be challenged in court.

Maybe so, but these lawsuits against government agencies seldom achieve the goals of the plaintiffs. The NRC has a history of having its paperwork in order.

Oldnuke
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Oldnuke 11/16/11 - 06:00 pm
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SCEagleEye wrote: The AP1000

SCEagleEye wrote:
The AP1000 reactor hasn't been "certified" by the NRC so isn't licensed to be built.

Westinghouse submitted the Standard Design Certification Application on March 28, 2002. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a final rule certifying the design on January 27, 2006. Southern Nuclear is waiting for a combined construction and operation license to start official construction.

SCEagle Eye
875
Points
SCEagle Eye 11/17/11 - 10:13 pm
0
0
Revision 19 of the AP1000,

Revision 19 of the AP1000, the version that GA Power wants to build at Vogtle, has NOT been certified by the NRC. Without this certification no "combined operating license" (COL) will be issued. If GA Power wants to rely on the earlier certification of an out-of-date design then the COL will never be issued.

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