Progress for new US NPPs but early closure for others

20 April 2016

The first reactor coolant pump for an AP1000 reactor plant in the USA has been delivered to unit 3 at Georgia Power's Vogtle NPP project. The 170t pump is the first of four which will be installed at unit 3. It was manufactured at Curtiss-Wright Corporation's Electro-Mechanical Division facility in Pennsylvania and transported to the Vogtle site by truck.

Other recent developments at Vogtle include the placement of six new shield building panels for unit 3. The shield building, which houses the reactor's containment vessel, comprises more than 160 individual reinforced steel panels, which can weigh around 10 tonnes and can be filled with concrete. Twenty of the panels have been installed so far.

The two Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactors at Vogtle have been under construction since 2013. Unit 3 is expected to enter service by mid-2019 and unit 4 by mid-2020. Two AP1000s are also under construction at VC Summer in South Carolina.

Meanwhile other US NPPs are facing possible closure. Power company Entergy announced that its Pilgrim NPP in the state of Massachusetts will be refuelled for the last time in 2017 and will shut down on 31 May 2019. The single unit NPP, with a 680MWe boiling water reactor (BWR), entered service in 1972 and is licensed to operate until 2032.

Entergy notified grid operator ISO New England Inc in October 2015 that Pilgrim would not participate in the capacity market after 31 May 2019, which means the plant would have to shut by 1 June 2019. Entergy did not rule out the possibility of shutting the plant at the end of its current operating cycle in 2017 in face of poor market conditions, reduced revenues and increased operational costs.

Entergy will prepare a Post-Shutdown Decommissioning Activities report, which must be submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission no later than two years after the plant closes. Entergy has also said it will create a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen's Advisory/Engagement Panel "to share information and educate the public".

The decision to operate Pilgrim for a further three years means that the unit will enter its final refuelling outage in the spring of 2017. The plant is currently operating under increased regulatory oversight following a low-to-moderate safety finding in relation to issues involving safety relief valves.

The short-term nature of deregulated electricity markets have left several US NPPs facing early closure for economic reasons. Entergy's FitzPatrick plant in New York State is to close in January 2017.

Exelon Corporation's single unit Clinton NPP may also face closure. The plant is committed to operate until 31 May 2017 after clearing the regional transmission organization's annual capacity auction, but said the plant may still face early retirement. Exelon said the 1,065MWe BWR is continuing to lose money and will have to close unless market and energy policy reforms are implemented.

Clinton is one of five Exelon units in the state of Illinois that are facing the possibility of premature closure due to profitability issues. In October 2015, the company said that it would defer any decision on Clinton's future operation for a year after the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) regional transmission organization acknowledged the need for changes to the design of the southern Illinois electricity market.



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