Three projects to build GE-Hitachi ESBWR nuclear units are in question after utilities Entergy and Dominion decided to explore alternative nuclear power options.
Both utilities have been unable to agree on terms for engineering construction and procurement deals to actually build the reactors with vendor GE-Hitachi. The news comes seven weeks after another project fell through for GE-Hitachi when Exelon announced it would look around for other nuclear build options in a search for "greater commercial certainty."
Entergy has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to stop ESBWR-specific work on their applications for construction and operating licenses for new reactors. However, much of the generic work already completed could be transferred to a revised application based on a different reactor technology. Dominion is to solicit bids for another firm to lead the construction of an ESBWR, or for another nuclear technology. Licensing work already underway for Dominion at the NRC will continue until the results of the tender are known.
Both the utilities praised ESBWR: Dominion said it was "an advanced Generation III+ reactor... which offers technology advancements that make it attractive." Entergy said the suspension of its application was "not a criticism of that design." GE-Hitachi told World Nuclear News via email: "While we are disappointed, we understand Entergy's needs to make decisions that balance the requirements imposed by its state regulators and the needs of its customers and shareholders. We will continue to work with Entergy and other US and global customers to further the advancement of GEH's ABWR and ESBWR technologies in the nuclear industry."
Three single-reactor licence applications are now in question: Dominion's for the North Anna plant; Entergy's for River Bend, and one made by Entergy on behalf of the NuStart consortium regarding Grand Gulf.
NuStart, which has aimed to push forward two new reactor projects for the benefit of all its members, consists of power generators Constellation, Duke, EdF International, Entergy, Exelon, FPL, Progress, Southern and TVA along with reactor vendors Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi. The group has also supported an application made by TVA for two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at Bellefonte.
Dominion would be disappointed to turn its back on ESBWR. The company has led its own consortium working for new nuclear build since 2004. Initially, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd's ACR-700 was the technology of choice, but after advice from the NRC that licensing would take too long, the design was dropped in favour of the ESBWR.
Certain contracts for major components for the ESBWRs at Grand Gulf and North Anna have already been signed, while the cost to utilities of bringing ESBWR forward for regulatory design certification is thought to be over $440 million. Half has been paid by the US Department of Energy (DoE) under its Nuclear Power 2010 scheme, with the remainder split between Dominion and NuStart. Loan guarantee applications have been submitted to the DoE for all the projects.
GE-Hitachi said it remains committed to the ESBWR, adding: "Our ABWR is also an excellent choice for our customers to consider as the only Generation III design in operation in the world."