U.S. OKs Nuclear Reactor Design to Allow Licenses

By Jim Polson and Eric Martin - Dec 22, 2011 11:00 AM MT

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission member William Magwood joined two colleagues and voted to certify the AP1000 reactor from Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric unit, giving the agency the votes to back the design. Photographer: Westinghouse Electric Co.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved Toshiba Corp. (6502)’s AP1000 reactor design, clearing the way for the agency to issue its first new reactor construction license in more than 30 years.

The five-member agency voted unanimously in favor of certifying the design, Scott Burnell, a commission spokesman, said in an e-mail today. Southern Co. (SO) and Scana Corp. (SCG) are seeking permission to use the reactor design to expand nuclear power output at existing sites in Georgia and South Carolina.

No dates were set for decisions on issuing construction and operating licenses for Southern and Scana, Burnell said in an interview. The agency hasn’t given permission to build a new U.S. reactor since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Southern expects its license “any time now,” Steve Higginbottom, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based company, said after the vote. It has estimated the project’s total cost at $14 billion. Licenses will create 3,000 jobs at each site, Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Tokyo-based Toshiba, said today in a statement.

Scana anticipates licensing of its two planned reactors later this year or early in 2012, the Cayce, South Carolina- based company said today in an e-mailed statement. It estimated the cost at $9.1 billion in February 2011. The first new reactor is scheduled to begin operation around the beginning of 2016, according to the company website.

‘Holiday Gift’

“Today, the NRC has presented its holiday gift to the nuclear industry,” said RepresentativeEdward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who had urged the commission to reject the acceleration of construction.

Receipt of a license within 60 days will enable Scana to maintain its current work schedule to add new reactors at its V.C. Summer site, Alan Torres, general manager for nuclear plant construction at Cayce, South Carolina-based Scana, said in a Dec. 20 telephone interview.

The schedule for the Westinghouse certification was “fairly well maintained,” Russell Bell, director of new plant licensing for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a U.S. trade group, said today in an interview. The commission has studied potential rule revisions following the March nuclear-plant meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan.

“The commission made the determination that this design in particular addressed a number of those issues that arose in Japan and new requirements that we learned from Fukushima can be imposed later,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jim Polson in New York at jpolson@bloomberg.net; Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net; Steve Geimann at sgeimann@bloomberg.net

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