GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy reactor technology clears major regulatory hurdle

Source: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy

GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) announced its next-generation reactor model, the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), has passed a crucial safety review performed by an advisory committee for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Completion of this review clears a key hurdle in the company’s bid for design certification of the ESBWR, which now begins the federal rulemaking process. This sets the stage for final NRC certification by the fall of 2011. 

In its October 20, 2010, letter made public today, the NRC’s independent Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) issued its safety recommendation for the ESBWR design, which is required before a new reactor technology can achieve final certification. From this point, the process takes approximately one calendar year to complete, thus keeping to the NRC’s schedule. As a result, GEH’s technology is on target to become a certified “Generation III+” reactor model. GE submitted the ESBWR to the NRC in August 2005. 

“The ESBWR design is robust and there is reasonable assurance that it can be built and operated without undue risk to the health and safety of the public,” ACRS Chairman Said Abdel-Khalik wrote in the agency’s safety recommendation.

The 1,520-megawatt (MW) ESBWR offers what GEH believes is the world’s most advanced passive safety features, simplified construction and operation and the lowest core damage frequency on the market today. In addition, the ESBWR’s innovative digital instrumentation and control design and development process are rigorously compliant to nuclear regulations and globally recognized standards. 

“Our team has been successful in keeping the ESBWR on track to become the first reactor with the extent of passive safety features and reliance on natural circulation cooling yet to be certified,” said Caroline Reda, president and CEO of GEH. “The team has done a great job demonstrating that this technology is safe and reliable. This independent recommendation from ACRS, along with expanding GEH’s global supply chain and nuclear footprint, shows the commitment of GEH to long-term nuclear projects.” 

GEH and Michigan utility DTE Energy are collaborating on a potential ESBWR project adjacent to its existing Fermi 2 nuclear plant, 35 miles south of Detroit. The NRC is currently reviewing the utility’s license application for the proposed “Fermi Unit 3.” DTE Energy, which operates Detroit Edison, Michigan's largest electric utility, has not yet made a decision to proceed with construction of the new reactor. 

GEH offers utility customers what it believes is the most complete portfolio of NRC-certified reactor models. The ESBWR is an evolutionary design based on GEH's 1,350-MWe advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR)—the first and only Generation III reactor to be fully certified by the NRC (in 1997). GEH intends to renew its ABWR certification for an additional 15 years beyond 2012.

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