October 26, 2011 / 5:56 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-US NRC to decide on amended ABWR reactor certification

* New ABWR reactors are for South Texas plant
    * NRG stopped investing in the new reactor project
    * GE-Hitachi also seeking amended ABWR certificate

    Oct 26 (Reuters) - U.S. nuclear regulators said on
Wednesday they would announce on Nov. 1 their decision whether
to approve a new version of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor
design proposed by the South Texas nuclear power project.
    Once the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certifies the
amended ABWR design, nuclear developers can use it in proposed
reactor projects.
    The expected affirmation vote comes as the nuclear industry
waits for the NRC to certify Westinghouse Electric's amended
AP1000 reactor design, which nuclear power operators have
started building in Georgia and South Carolina. Westinghouse is
majority owned by JaPan's Toshiba .
    The NRC is expected to certify the amended AP1000 design
later this year. Units of U.S. power companies Southern 
and Scana are building the new AP1000 reactors.
    NRG Energy , the lead partner in South Texas Project
Nuclear Operating Co, which applied for the ABWR amendment,
stopped investing in the new reactor project in April 2011, but
the NRC has continued with the certification.
    In 1994, the NRC issued a final design approval for General
Electric's ABWR application. The NRC issued the final
design certificate for the ABWR in 1997.
    In 2009, South Texas applied with the NRC to amend the ABWR
final design certificate to demonstrate a new ABWR design could
meet the commission's new aircraft impact rule following the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
    NRG told the NRC it wanted to build two 1,350-megawatt
ABWRs at South Texas in 2006. In 2007, NRG filed an application
to build two Toshiba ABWRs at South Texas. Toshiba has built
ABWRs in Japan.
    General Electric and partner Hitachi , which is
waiting for NRC to certify their Economic Simplified Boiling
Water Reactor (ESBWR) design, also applied with the NRC in late
2010 to extend the original ABWR design certification for
another 15 years beyond June 2012, when it expires. That
application also includes a design update to reflect NRC
requirements for an aircraft impact assessment.
    BILLIONS
    The cost of the new reactors at South Texas was originally
estimated at $13 billion, which included financing. But in
2009, Toshiba said the cost could be up to $4 billion more than
originally estimated.
    Due in part to the higher cost estimates, San Antonio's CPS
Energy, one of the nation's biggest municipal utilities and a
partner in the existing South Texas nuclear plant, worked a
deal with NRG in 2010 to reduce CPS' stake in the new reactors
from 50 percent to 7.625 percent.
    Also in 2010, Japanese power company Tokyo Electric Power
(Tepco) agreed to buy a stake in the new reactors.
    Tepco agreed to spend about $125 million for a 9.2375
percent stake in the new units and another $30 million for an
option to buy an additional $125 million stake in the new
units, bringing its total to about 18 percent. But no money
changed hands and the deal was never completed because the
agreement was conditioned on the United States giving the
project a loan guarantee, which has not yet happened.
    Also, that was before an earthquake and tsunami damaged
Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in March 2011.
Since then, Japan has said it plans to put Tepco under
effective state control as a guarantee to compensate people
affected by radiation from Fukushima. Energy experts have said
Tepco's financial problems will likely force it to pull out of
the agreement to buy a stake in the new South Texas reactors.
    In April 2011, NRG decided to write down its investment in
the new reactor project. NRG said it would continue to support
its current partners but would not invest additional capital in
the effort to develop the project.
    Toshiba, NRG's minority partner in the project, however has
continued to seek certification of the amended ABWR and has so
far kept alive the application for a combined operating and
construction license to build the South Texas reactors.
    Toshiba, however, cannot build the new units by itself. The
U.S. prohibits foreign control of U.S. nuclear power plants, so
Toshiba would need a U.S. partner if it wants to build the
reactors.
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