The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales announced on 30 March that they are satisfied that the Westinghouse's AP1000 nuclear reactor design “meets expectations on safety, security and environmental protection at this stage of the regulatory process" after it completed Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. A reactor has completed the GDA process when it receives a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC) from the ONR and a Statement of Design Acceptability (SoDA) from the Environment Agency.
Westinghouse initiated the GDA process in 2007 and its AP1000 reached the interim DAC and interim SoDA stage in December 2011. Westinghouse then paused the review process until its majority owner Toshiba bought a stake in NuGeneration. Japan's Toshiba currently owns 60% of NuGen and France's Engie 40%. Westinghouse restarted the GDA process in January 2015 after NuGen announced plans to build three AP1000 units at Moorside.
The regulators required 51 GDA Issues to be resolved before confirming the suitability of the AP1000. All of the issues have been addressed to the regulators' satisfaction, enabling the DAC and SoDA to be issued.
In a summary report, ONR chief nuclear inspector Richard Savage said: "Completion of this first phase of regulatory work is only the start for the Moorside development and there is much to be done in subsequent phases. We anticipate an application for a nuclear site licence from NuGen later this year and we have the capability and capacity to deliver this within our New Reactors Division. This equally important work also features in our regulatory plan for 2017/18."
Generic Design Assessment (GDA) is just one part of the new build process; before a new nuclear power station can be built, the operator must obtain a number of site specific permissions from the regulators and Government, including a nuclear site licence and relevant consents, environmental permits and planning permission.
NuGen said the conclusion of GDA means that it will now takes ownership of and responsibility for the design in relation to the AP1000 reactors at Moorside through its own in-house Design Authority. NuGen will "lead on engagement" with regulators, it said, as it progresses applications for a nuclear site licence and works towards gaining consents and permits to construct, operate and eventually decommission the Moorside plant.
However, the future of Moorside has been called into question by Westinghouse’s 29 March decision to file for bankruptcy, paving the way for strategic restructuring to address serious financial difficulties in its US AP1000 power plant projects. Despite this, NuGen said it will continue in a 'business as usual' manner. However, NuGen separately announced on 29 March that it no longer intends to submit a Development Consent Order application in the second quarter of this year. A company spokesman said this was due to the high number of submissions received during the second stage of public consultation it had held on plans for the project that ended in July 2016.
A NuGen spokesman said: “NuGen is continuing to develop its Moorside project to deliver three Westinghouse AP1000 reactors in west Cumbria. NuGen will continue to work alongside our technology supplier, Westinghouse, and our shareholders, Toshiba and Engie, in taking forward the Moorside development phase. NuGen will continue in a 'business as usual' manner working in collaboration to gain the appropriate permits and licences required to construct Europe’s largest nuclear new build project, and will continue to increase value and attractiveness of the project to potential future investors, as we have always done."
On a less optimistic note, a Toshiba spokesman said: "The Chapter 11 filings have made planned supply of the AP1000 (nuclear power plant) for the UK project uncertain, and we have therefore recorded an impairment loss covering the cost of the NuGen project. However, if you consider the project in terms of the overall power generation business, there is no change in the business climate.
"We will work to enhance NuGen project's value, in consultation with stakeholders, such as Engie and UK government. Toshiba is committed to invest until the FID (final investment decision), but there is a certain point before the FID where we can review and determine whether or not to continue the project. Also, we are allowed to sell the shares through a certain process and under certain conditions at other times. We would like to explore the alternatives, including sales of the shares, and carefully watch the situation." Korea Electrical Power Company (Kepco) has denied plans to buy Westinghouse, but expressed an interest in buying Toshiba's stake in NuGen.