The federal government has approved a new type of nuclear reactor, clearing one more hurdle for two of them to be installed in South Carolina.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued its final certification of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor Thursday. The reactors are supposed to be used at SCANA’s nuclear facility under construction at Jenkinsville in Fairfield County. The V.C. Summer plant will be one of the first sites to use the next generation of reactors, if they receive a license from the NRC, as expected, next year.
The most prominent new feature of the AP1000 is its “passive core cooling system” which is designed to automatically shut down the reactor in the event of a complete power loss– such as what happened at the Fukushima reactors in Japan earlier this year– by using gravity, circulation, and pressure.
“Receiving final approval of the AP1000 design reaffirms our selection of this technology, which has undergone rigorous reviews to demonstrate that its design meets all regulatory requirements,” said Kevin Marsh, chairman and CEO of SCANA. “This is a major milestone on the path… for the two new nuclear units at V.C. Summer Nuclear Station.”
However, critics say the new reactors still have some safety issues. The North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network threatened legal action to challenge the certification, accusing the NRC of being too friendly with the industry.
“Taxpayers are poorly served if federal courts must be called upon to force open resolution of myriad design problems impacting cost and safety,” NC WARN director Jim Warren said in a statement.
The approval process was not a quick one. Westinghouse revised the AP1000 design 19 times over the last decade to answer NRC staff’s questions and concerns.
The reactors in Fairfield County are scheduled to go online in 2016. SCANA’s power utility South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) runs V.C. Summer. The company says about 1,000 employees are engaged in preconstruction work at the site. The overall construction is expected to cost $10.2 billion.