Exelon chooses ESBWR for Texas

13 November 2007

Exelon Nuclear has selected GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy's Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) as its chosen reactor should it go ahead with building a new nuclear plant in Texas. The ESBWR was recently awarded 'ecomagination' certification by parent company GE.

The choice of reactor technology is a necessary step in preparing to submit a combined construction and operating licence (COL) to the US regulator. A COL would preserve the potential for a new build project, but Exelon took pains to point out that the selection of the design does not indicate any definite intention to build a new plant. Exelon is studying two potential locations in Texas (in
Matagorda County and Victoria County ) and expects to submit a COL application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in November 2008.

According to Tom O'Neill, Exelon's Vice President of new plant development, the company's priorities in making its choice were safety and minimizing its carbon footprint. "The ESBWR meets those criteria, plus GE-Hitachi has a proven track record of designing reliable plants," he said. Andy White, President and CEO of GE-Hitiachi, said his company was "thrilled and honoured" by Exelon's choice.

The ESBWR is a so-called Generation III+ reactor, and has evolved from earlier boiling water reactor (BWR) designs. Generation III+ reactors typically have simpler designs than earlier reactors, and are more fuel efficient and inherently safer. The simpler, standardized design reduces capital cost and construction time, while expediting licensing. The greatest departure from earlier reactor designs is the incorporation of 'passive' safety features which rely on natural forces such as gravity, evaporation and condensation rather than 'active' systems which rely on large numbers of powered pumps and valves that must be put into operation to ensure safety in the event of a malfunction - the ESBWR design eliminates 11 systems from previous designs and has 25 per cent fewer valves. Most of the reactors operating in the world today are Generation II designs but Generation III designs like GE-Hitachi's ABWR have been operating in Japan since 1996 and others are under construction, such as Areva's Evolutionary Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR) being built at Olkiluoto in Finland.

The ESBWR is now the preferred design of three US nuclear operators looking into new build. The NRC is expecting a COL application for an ESBWR from Dominion Energy before the end of 2007, and anticipates applications from Entergy and the NuStart consortium, of which Entergy and Exelon are both members, for two further ESBWRs during 2008.

Environmental hero

The EBSWR has recently been awarded 'Ecomagination' certification by parent company General Electric (GE), in recognition of its environmental and technical benefits. Ecomagination is the trademarked moniker used by GE for its corporate campaign to promote investment in cleaner energy technologies. ESBWR is the first nuclear product to be included in a portfolio of technologies and projects that includes cleaner coal, photovoltaics, wind turbines and solar power as well as high-efficiency locomotives and jet engines.

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who launched the Ecomagination campaign in 2005, has been recognised in Time magazine as a "hero of the environment" in its 2007 listing. Cited in the Moguls and Entrepreneurs category, Immelt is praised for spearheading the formation of the US Climate Action Partnership, a consortium of companies and NGOs that earlier this year asked the Bush Administration to take action against the build-up of greenhouse gases. In his eulogy of Immelt for the magazine, Dan Esty, professor of environmental law and policy at Yale University, said: "Beyond praising Immelt's vision, society should celebrate that environmental technology development is shifting from government to business. By committing GE to respond to the world's need for better pollution control, safer water, improved energy efficiency and alternative power sources, Immelt has led the way toward a future of business-driven environmental advances."

Further information

GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy

WNA's Advanced Nuclear Power Reactors information paper
WNA's US Nuclear Power Industry information paper

WNN: Exelon selects two potential Texan sites

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