UK pre-licensing moves

24 May 2007

Nuclear industry players reacted to the issue of proposed new UK government policy by declaring their interest in pre-licensing certain reactor designs.

On the day of the energy white paper, 23 May, reactor vendor Westinghouse announced that it had submitted its AP1000 pressurized water reactor (PWR) for Generic Design Acceptance (GDA) to the Nuclear Directorate of the UK Health and Safety Executive. This was followed by a similar release from the utility EdF, which announced it would "in conjunction with Areva" submit the EPR design (another PWR) for GDA "at the right time."

General Electric (GE) made clear in April its intention to submit the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) design, and AECL announced on 29 May that it plans to formally apply for GDA of its ACR1000 pressurized heavy water reactor shortly.

Germany-based utility EOn also issued a statement to coincide with the white paper. It said it would be "supporting Westinghouse and Areva" designs while it "is in discussions with GE."

The GDA process is intended to certify a standardized nuclear power reactor design as suitable for a generic site with certain physical properties.

A separate program, Strategic Site Assessment, is intended to identify new sites that would be broadly suitable for new nuclear power stations in advance of a detailed planning enquiry. However, industry observers agree that existing nuclear generation sites would be the obvious places to build new reactors because of their existing grid connections and nuclear site licenses.

The Future of Nuclear Power consultation document released alongside the white paper states: "Developers should have confidence that if a power station design has gone through a successful GDA, the regulators are unlikely to require significant design modifications at the site-specific licensing stage." This should make site-specific assessments shorter and more predictable, it said, and reduce the risks of project delays at a crucial time when developers have invested to purchase heavy plant components.

However, the GDA process would be exhaustive and complex and the UK regulator, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, has only limited resources: The consultation document states that only three designs can be simultaneously assessed. Now, it is "for industry to identify the priority designs" for the NII to focus on.

The assessment process, which would take three years, is "expected" to begin "on a contingent basis" alongside the consultation, which runs from now until 10 October.

Further information

Health and Safety Executive: New nuclear power stations - Generic Design Assessment

Department of Trade and Industry: Energy White Paper

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: "Practical but radical UK energy policies"
WNN: New UK planning process could facilitate new nuclear build
WNN: Boiling water reactors proposed for the UK

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