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February 16, 2011

NRC has four certified nuclear reactor designs but many other designs have tried to get to certification and failed

The US Nuclear Regulatory commission was established in 1974

Adding in pre-application time with licensing certification period for the NRC review of a new reactor certification is 7-20+ years and of the more than one dozen different reactors that have been up to pre-application only 4 reactors are certified and three of those are variations of the same reactor. So 7-20 years and the odds of successfully getting through certification are about 20% or less. The odds seem even worse if your reactor is not submitted by Westinghouse (which three of the four certified reactors, but did not get the IRIS reactor certified yet) or the reactor is not a light water reactor or a pressure water reactor.

There have been CANDU heavy water reactors (which have had versions built around the world), pebble bed and high temperature reactors that have been put before the NRC but they have never made it to the start of the certification process after ten years or more.

The NRC has four certified nuclear reactor designs

Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR)  General Electric (GE) Nuclear Energy
System 80+  Westinghouse Electric Company
Advanced Passive 600 (AP600)  Westinghouse Electric Company
Advanced Passive 1000 (AP1000)  Westinghouse Electric Company

The AP600 and AP1000 are derived from the System 80+, so there are two designs (one boiler water and three pressurized water) with 2 variants on one of the designs.

In the bottom of this article is a partial list of the designs that have at least gone to pre-application with the NRC but were not certified. One was a version of CANDU heavy water reactor. CANDU reactors have been built and operated safely in other countries.

The NRC bills applicants for the time of NRC engineers at least $250/hr.

The NRC does not have enough money to process all the COL (combined operating license) applications in 42 months. However, some are not ready for prime time, because of deficiencies, and other license reviews have been suspended at the applicant's request. The situation is better with reactor design certification. There NRC expects to finish all three that it has docketed by 2011 (claim made in 2009)



The "usual licensing/certification period" for a modified PWR or LWR is 4-6+ years and the costs to license this reactor will be well over $100 million. There were smaller/mid sized reactors like IRIS which has sitting in pre-application review for many years. Westinghouse IRIS actually started engaging with the NRC in 2003. So the NRC will not start the clock until 2012 or so when the actual submittal for certification might start. So adding in pre-application with licensing review is 7-20+ years.

http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced/iris.html Westinghouse Iris has been in pre-application since 2003, although this page shows the official updated letter of intent in March, 2009.

http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/advanced/prism.html Prism has been in pre-application since 1986.

There have been other reactors that were on the NRC docket at least for pre-application.

An older NRC page shows the skeletons of old reactors applications and how long some of the reactor designs languish in pre-application.

Inactive Reviews

* CANDU 3U: NRC terminated its review at the request of AECL in March 1995.

* MHTGR: NRC discontinued its review in early 1996 at the request of the Department of Energy.

* PBMR - Exelon Generation Company, by letter dated December 5, 2000, requested to meet with NRC to discuss issues associated with the potential to license a pebble bed modular Reactor design. An initial public meeting was held January 31, 2001. On April 16, 2002, Exelon announced that it will not be proceeding with the PBMR project beyond the completion of the current feasibility study phase. On May 16, 2002, the staff held a public meeting with Exelon to discuss plans for “wrapping up” the PBMR pre-application review. By letter to Exelon dated September 9, 2002, the PBMR pre-application review was closed.

* PIUS: The NRC documented its pre-application review of ABB’s Process Inherent Ultimate Safety design in April 1994 and terminated all other activities until an application for design certification is submitted.

* PRISM: The Department of Energy submitted the conceptual design for the Power Reactor Innovative Small Module to NRC for pre-application review in November 1986. DOE amended their design document in 1990, and NRC completed its review in February 1994.

* RESAR SP/90: The NRC published its final safety evaluation report (NUREG-1413) for Westinghouse’s advanced pressurized-water reactor design in April 1991 and issued a preliminary design approval. RESAR SP/90 was the first “evolutionary” light-water reactor.

* SAFR: The NRC’s pre-application safety evaluation report (NUREG-1369) for the sodium advanced fast reactor design, sponsored by DOE, was published in December 1991.

* SBWR: GE Nuclear Energy submitted an application for final design approval and design certification in August 1992. The NRC, in May 1993, determined that it was acceptable for review. In response to some NRC concerns, GE sponsored testing which continued into 1996. However, in March 1996, GE announced the cancellation of the design certification application with an intent to shift the focus of its SBWR programs to plants of 1000 MWe (megawatts electric) or larger. At GE’s request, NRC closed out its review activities in early 1997.

Active Reviews in 2004

* ACR-700: Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited Technologies, Inc. requested pre-application review of its ACR-700 design in a letter to the NRC dated June 19, 2002. The NRC expects to complete its pre-application review in 2004.

* AP1000: Westinghouse requested a design certification review of its AP1000 design, by letter dated March 28, 2002. The NRC expects to complete its design certification review in 2005.

* ESBWR: General Electric requested pre-application review of its design in a letter to the NRC dated April 18, 2002. The NRC expects to complete its pre-application review in early 2004 and expects GE to submit an application for design certification in mid-2005.

The ESBWR has still not been certified in 2011

* GT-MHR: On March 22, 2001, General Atomics (GA) requested exploratory discussions with NRC on how to proceed with the licensing of its Gas Turbine-Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) design. NRC will prepare a preliminary technical assessment of the GT-MHR based on the key issues that will need to be resolved as part of an application, GA technical documents, GA white papers, and GA’s responses to the NRC’s request for additional information and questions. GA has indicated that, at the earliest, a design certification application for the request for additional information on the GT-MHR would begin by the end of 2005.

* IRIS: In an August 12, 2003, letter, Westinghouse outlined its expectations for the near term review of the IRIS design. Westinghouse stated that it is its goal to begin design certification review in 2006, and to deploy the first IRIS module in the 2012-2015 timeframe. Westinghouse requested that the staff conduct a preliminary review of IRIS documents, that a meeting be conducted to discuss the review, and that the staff provide a cost estimate for those near term activities. The NRC staff is presently preparing a response to Westinghouse’s August 12, 2003, letter.

* SWR-1000: Framatome requested pre-application review of its SWR-1000 design in a letter to the NRC dated May 31, 2002. Framatome intends to begin submitting materials for pre-application review in mid-2004. The NRC expects to complete its pre-application review in 2005.


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