US regulator approves Vogtle 3&4 reactors

10 February 2012

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has concluded its mandatory hearing on Southern Nuclear Operating Company’s (SNC) application for two Combined Licenses (COL) at the Vogtle site in Georgia.

Assembly of Vogtle unit 3 containment vessel bottom head
Assembly of Vogtle unit 3 containment vessel bottom head

Construction partner Shaw said that the approval was the first in 30 years.

In a 4-1 vote, the Commission found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the COLs. The Commission imposed a condition on the COLs requiring inspection and testing of squib valves, important components of the new reactors’ passive cooling system.

The COLs will authorize SNC to build and operate two AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site, adjacent to the company’s existing reactors approximately 26 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga. NRC construction inspectors have been on-site since April 2010, examining SNC’s activities to prepare the plant’s foundation under a Limited Work Authorization the NRC issued on Aug. 26, 2009.

The NRC certified Westinghouse’s amended AP1000 design on Dec. 30, 2011. The AP1000 is a 1,100 megawatt electric pressurized-water reactor that includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention.

The dissenting opinion comes from chairman Gregory Jaczko, who said he had not been given binding guarantees he wanted concerning implementing post-Fukushima changes, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper. 'Significant safety enhancements have already been recommended as a result of learning the lessons from Fukushima, and there is still more work ahead of us. Knowing this, I cannot support issuing these licenses as if Fukushima never happened,” he was quoted as saying.

Georgia Power expects Unit 3 to begin operating in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017.

The approval of the Vogtle COL was a joint effort with NuStart Energy Development, a partnership of 10 power companies created in 2004 to obtain a COL using the new streamlined licensing process and complete the design engineering for the selected reactor technologies. In 2009, NuStart named Vogtle the reference plant for the Westinghouse AP1000 technology.

"The efforts of NuStart and the Department of Energy were vital to achieving this license," said Southern Company's chairman, president and CEO Thomas Fanning. "In addition, the NRC's technical staff conducted a thorough evaluation and determined the Vogtle design is safe and meets all regulatory requirements."

Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, is overseeing construction and will operate the two new 1,100-megawatt AP1000 units for Georgia Power and co-owners Oglethorpe Power Corporation, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia and Dalton Utilities. Georgia Power owns 45.7 percent of the new units, with a certified cost of $6.1 billion.

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