Vogtle could be 'reference site'

Southern Co.'s Plant Vogtle in Burke County has moved into position to become the demonstration site for the federal licensing process required of all nuclear power plants with the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors.

Previously, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Bellefonte site was to be what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission refers to as the "reference site," from which other companies applying for "combined operating license" permits could duplicate documentation already approved by the NRC.

The AP1000 rectors are being proposed for many sites where expansions are planned, mostly in the Southeast. Vogtle has proposed adding two such units at its existing plant along the Savannah River.

Roger Hannah, a spokesman for the NRC, said the change from the Bellefonte site to Vogtle indicates the Vogtle project is leading the pack in terms of becoming a reality.

"It's really a timing thing because the units at Plant Vogtle, at least from what we understand from Southern Nuclear, are closer to the point of actually being built," he said.

Southern Nuclear spokeswoman Beth Thomas said data that could be duplicated from the Vogtle license applications includes generic training and operational procedures that would be identical for all such facilities using the AP1000 product.

"Then there would be all the site-specific things, like seismology and hydrology and a lot of other issues that are specific to a particular site," she said. "Those would have to be done at each site."

Southern Nuclear and the TVA are both part of a working group known as NuStart Energy Development, which is working with the NRC to streamline the licensing process for sites using the AP1000 standardized reactor design.

According to the NRC, the AP1000 reactors are proposed at several sites in addition to Vogtle and Bellefonte. Two units are planned at each of the following facilities: Progress Energy's Levy County, Fla., plant; Shearon Harris in Wake County, N.C.; V.C. Summer Plant in South Carolina; and Duke Energy's Lee Plant in Cherokee County, S.C.

Southern Nuclear expects to earn regulatory approval of its early site permit later this year and could receive its combined license in 2011. The new units could be online in 2016 or 2017.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.