NRC orders design modifications on Vogtle buildings

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Westinghouse, maker of the new AP1000 nuclear reactors that will be installed at Plant Vogtle, was ordered today to modify the design of buildings that protect sensitive containment areas from events like earthquakes and tornadoes.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Com­mis­sion staff has informed West­ing­house that the company has not demonstrated that certain structural components of the revised AP1000 shield building can withstand design basis loads,” said David Matthews, director of the commission’s Division of New Reactor Licensing.

Part of the NRC’s concern is the ability of those buildings to support emergency cooling water tanks that typically hold 6 million to 8.5 million pounds of water more than 100 feet above the ground – in addition to being able to withstand seismic and other external events.

The shield building design includes prefabricated steel and concrete modules, he said. “This is a situation where fundamental engineering standards will have to be met before we can begin determining whether the shield building meets the agency’s requirements.”

Although there are seven companies across the country planning 14 new commercial reactors – all using the AP1000 design – Plant Vogtle is the farthest along , and has been designated as the NRC’s AP1000 “reference site” that will become a model for facilities to follow in the permitting and licensing process.

Carrie Phillips, a spokeswoman for Southern Nuclear, said it is too early to determine if there will be any impact on the Vogtle project.

“At this point we don’t anticipate any impact with the commercial operation dates for Vogtle Units 3 and 4, which is the 2016 and 2017 time frame,” she said. “But at this point, until the NRC and Westinghouse review what needs to be done, we don’t know what the impact of the schedule might be.”

Westinghouse spokesman Vaughn Gilbert said the company is already working to resolve the design issues.

“We are completely confident we will meet all the applicable requirements,” he said. “We expect to continue to work and to receive the design certification amendment in 2011 and we expect to bring the first of the AP1000s in the United States online in the 2016 time frame.”

The design changes, he added, are unlikely to cause any delays for clients planning to use the AP1000 reactors.

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