Oh yah, they were gona go gangbusters on this ultra new design. Ah would that be untested?
PO Box 531 • Durham,NC 27702 • Telephone: (919) 419-8311 • Fax: (919) 419-8315
July 28, 2008
Revelations of nuclear reactor
design flaws spur
legal action over
Duke cost estimates
In states across the South, utility companies are pushing ahead with plans to construct a new kind of nuclear reactor. Designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., the AP1000 is to date but an idea on paper, having never been tested with a demonstration model in the real world.
And now it appears there are serious problems with the reactor design, which is delaying the regulatory approval process. Those problems, in turn, have sparked legal actions by public-interest groups calling on utilities commissions in the Carolinas to revoke $230 million in approved pre-construction costs for two new reactors planned by Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C.
Last week, Friends of the Earth in Columbia, S.C. and the Durham-based N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network filed legal motions seeking the cost revocation. They argue that the design problems threaten Duke’s chances of ever completing two new AP1000 reactors it wants to build at the proposed Lee Nuclear Station on the Broad River in Cherokee County, S.C.. They also say the delays mean Duke can’t provide a reliable cost estimate for the station by year’s end, a commitment the company made to both commissions during hearings on pre-construction costs.
“Duke Energy’s customers should not be stuck holding the bag if the company keeps pouring millions into that risky project,” said Friends of the Earth’s Tom Clements. “The state regulatory agencies must now reverse their earlier decisions to approve Duke’s reactor project and require that the company not come back for reconsideration until the reactor design is finalized.”
In a June 27 letter to Westinghouse, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the company’s recent withdrawal of technical documents due to design problems had delayed the agency’s review of key components and systems. Earlier this year, as part of the application process for building new plants, Duke Energy and other companies filed some 6,500 pages of technical documents from Westinghouse.
The NRC wants to review and certify plant designs separately from the plant applications. Because the agency expects more design modifications as its review continues, it’s likely that all the projects involving the AP1000 will be delayed.
The same type of reactors are being proposed by Progress Energy for its Shearon Harris plant in Wake County, N.C. as well as the company’s planned facility in Levy County, Fla.; SCE&G for the Summer Nuclear Plant in Fairfield County, S.C.; Georgia Power’s Vogtle plant in Burke County, Ga.; FP&L’s Turkey Point nuclear plant in Miami-Dade County; and Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bellefonte Nuclear Generating Station in Jackson County, Ala.
A public hearing about the Bellefonte plant is scheduled for this Wednesday, July 30 at 9 a.m. at the Scottsboro Goosepond Civic Center in Scottsboro, Ala. The AP1000 design problems are expected to be part of the discussion.
Concerns about the reactor design were also raised during the July 17 public meeting in Waynesboro, Ga. about the two new reactors proposed for the Vogtle plant. Though the NRC does not expect to certify the reactor’s final design until 2012, the NRC said they expected to issue a license for Vogtle in 2011, leading nuclear opponents to level charges of “rubber stamping.”
The AP1000 reactors are being built by a consortium, 80 percent of which is owned by Westinghouse Electric (which in turn is owned by Japan’s Toshiba Corp.) and the rest by Louisiana-based The Shaw Group’s nuclear division. In December 2006, the AP1000 Consortium won a contract with China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Co. to build four new nuclear power plants in that country.