October 13, 2011 / 10:10 PM / 8 years ago

NRC delays reactor certification to study Japan damage

* NRC expects to act by year-end on Westinghouse AP1000

* Consideration of GE Hitachi’s ESBWR delayed to next year

By Jim Brumm

WILMINGTON, N.C., Oct 13 (Reuters) - U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification of new reactor technology has been delayed by the agency’s evaluation of the earthquake and tsunami damage to Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in March, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said on Thursday.

He said the full commission is still expected to act on the final certification of Westinghouse Electric’s AP1000 design by year-end, which would make the certification effective in 2012.

The NRC staff has been analyzing the Fukushima Daiichi plant after the earthquake and tsunami and making recommendations for future NRC action aimed at averting such an accident in the United States.

NRC consideration of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) has been delayed until next year, Burnell said in a telephone interview.

The NRC staff is in the process of preparing a final rule for both reactors and the AP100 has priority over the ESBWR for the commission’s available resources, he said.

Burnell said the NRC staff would update GE Hitachi soon on the ESBWR’s certification status, which now appears to have been delayed at least six months from “the June to September time frame” seen earlier this year by Danny Roderick, senior vice president of nuclear plant projects at GE Hitachi’s headquarters in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Noting the company has worked closely with the NRC on licensing the ESBWR since 2005, GE Hitachi spokesman Michael Tetuan said the company has completed its required licensing work and is looking forward to receiving final design certification from the NRC.

GE Hitachi is owned 60 percent by General Electric Co and 40 percent by Japan’s Hitachi Ltd .

If the AP1000 certification is effective early next year, this would allow Southern Co to stay on schedule to begin producing electricity with the reactors built by Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse in 2016 and 2017, Southern spokesman Steve Higginbottom said on Thursday.

He said that schedule is based on the utility’s expectation it will get an NRC license for the two reactors around year’s end and noted that license is dependent on NRC certification of the reactors built by Toshiba Corp’s Westinghouse.

The agency has already given Southern permission to perform limited construction in preparation for the new reactors at its Vogtle power plant near Augusta, Georgia, Higginbottom noted.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s DTE Energy has begun site preparation for a GE Hitachi ESBWR next to its existing Fermi 2 plant south of Detroit.

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