Interview: "We will be back" in Europe, says GE

15 September 2009

GE-Hitachi senior vice president, nuclear plant projects Daniel Roderick speaks about finishing the NRC's application for its ESBWR reactor design, and the company's plans about returning to Europe. Although the company is bullish about Europe, Roderick admits that new-build prospects in the USA have withered.

In 2008, GE pulled its new ESBWR reactor design out of the UK's reactor application procedure, the General Design Assessment run by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. The week after GE-Hitachi finished filing its application in the USA, Daniel Roderick spoke to journalists at the World Nuclear Association annual symposium in September 2009.

He predicted that GE-Hitachi would return to the UK, and to Europe.

"With the second sale of sites [by the NDA], operators are interested in buying from us. We will be back here. We are working with them to set up discussions with the NII to understand how it would work. We are also interested in other parts of Europe, such as the Nordics.

"Maybe we will be in the second wave.

"We spent $20 million in the UK GDA, we were at the front of the process when we stopped. We needed to come back with a completed design.

"The NRC has a rigorous process, which will help us come back to the NII.

"Others hit the same thing we did last year, fighting between one design and two regulators. It eliminates the value of standardisation. You can't license a design in two countries at the same time; when one country asks for a change, it has an effect on the other country's process."

He added later:

"Our plan is for the APWR to [be built] to 2020, and then the ESBWR for 2020 plus, where it fits. The ESBWR timescale in the UK might be 2020 or 2022. But there have been so many promises made and broken that I don't want to commit us.

"We have been out of the GDA a year. But we could get back into it quickly; the aircraft impact studies are finished, cybersecurity is done.

"We're going to be in Europe, there is no doubt about it. We are working to prepare forgers in the UK to supply reactor vessels.

"We are now machining the ESBWR reactor head at ENSA [Equipos Nucleares] in Spain. We make fuel at ENUSA. We are looking for space where we could build modules.

"We are looking at European turbine suppliers. There should be some announcements at the end of the year."

NEI: Recently two US utilities switched from the ESBWR to the AP1000. Aren't you finding that your design is now less popular than the AP1000?

"There were 28 plants docketed two years ago [in the USA], but there are very few now proceeding. The only one in active construction is Southern [at the Vogtle site]. Westinghouse's AP1000s have also had many cancellations.

"In the USA, we are down to two or three plants under construction for now, although I think it will come back.

"For the ESBWR, we have [references in combined operating licence applications at] Fermi and North Anna.

"I'd be surprised if more than 2-3 plants are even started over the next 5-10 years [in the USA].

"It's like what [Exelon CEO] Chris Crane said yesterday; with the price of gas, you can't get there, it is too difficult. We need to get a carbon tax or something else to get the economics of nuclear. But I am optimistic about the nuclear renaissance; ageing plants have to be replaced. I've said it before, I think that the nuclear renaissance is now 5-7 years out."

Roderick also commented on the company's memorandum of understanding with Indian nuclear power developer NPCIL.

"The US state department has done a lot of good work in linking with India.

"We will build a reactor there [in India]. We have had GE BWRs there for 40 years.

"We are looking from the supply chain in Europe, to expand our capacity of forgings. We need that in India.

"The problem is workload. If we could give them six units tomorrow, they would want them. We're better off doing 2-3 at a time completely than doing 10 half-way, because it only takes one to go wrong to mess things up. We have realised that just like any other company, we only have so many A-teams, so we are working to keep them busy. If we are trying to do 20 at a time, it will be unwieldy. The challenge is dealing with the supply chain in Japan; we need new sources, and the UK has a good opportunity to pick that up."

NEI: Is the ESBWR design now frozen?

"We're done; although there will be hearings and administration. We have spent five years in working on the technology.

"The NRC can still ask more questions, they can take as long as they want, but we anticipate it will take about a year.

"The nice part is that when the nuclear renaissance comes back, which we think will be about five years, we are poised to start construction immediately.

"Last time, we had a president who said the word 'nuclear', and support in Congress, but we [in the nuclear industry] had no certified designs. That was our fault. We all lost out by putting in our new designs at the NRC at the same time. The start of construction was delayed, but we missed that little wave, and then the financial markets took it away."


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