By Brian Wingfield and Julie Johnsson
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko voted to certify the AP1000 reactor of Toshiba Corp. (6502)’s Westinghouse Electric unit, which Southern Co. (SO) and Scana Corp. (SCG) plan to build near existing plants.
Jaczko’s Dec. 6 vote was made public today by the NRC. Commissioner George Apostolakis also voted for the design, according to the agency’s website. The full commission hasn’t yet voted on a final certification rule for the design.
The regulation “is a necessary prerequisite to issuing” a license to build and operate the reactor, Jaczko said in a statement that accompanied his vote.
The commission may issue “within a month or two” the first licenses in more than 30 years to build reactors, Jaczko said yesterday in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. The NRC hasn’t issued a construction license for a nuclear plant since the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island facility near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The two votes supporting the new reactor’s design is “very good news” for Southern, Steve Higginbottom, spokesman for the Atlanta-based company, said in a telephone interview.
Southern has dug foundations for a $14 billion project to add two reactors to its Vogtle plant, about 26 miles (42 kilometers) southeast of Augusta, Georgia. The company asked the NRC to expedite action on a construction and operating license.
“Absent good cause to justify an exception, we cannot legally issue” the license “until 30 days after publication of the rule in the Federal Register,” Jaczko said today.
Scana of Cayce, South Carolina, plans to build two reactors for its Virgil C. Summer plant about 26 miles northwest of Columbia, South Carolina. Both companies expect their first new reactors to begin operations by 2016.
Jaczko said May 20 that Westinghouse of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, would need to provide information on “additional technical issues” related to the AP1000 shield building’s ability to withstand accidents. NRC staff said Aug. 9 that the design is safe.
“It is very encouraging that Jaczko voted affirmatively, knowing that Jaczko for a time was critical of our design,” Scott Shaw, a Westinghouse spokesman, said in a phone interview.
The AP1000’s design is inadequate to withstand potentially high heat inside the reactor, according to a November report commissioned by environmental groups Friends of the Earth, based in San Francisco, and the North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network.
If the NRC issues licenses to Southern and Scana, the AP1000’s “design flaws will need to be corrected during construction” at a cost to utility customers, John Runkle, an attorney for the Durham, North Carolina-based organization said during a Nov. 10 call with reporters.