Three-year delay in Lee licensing

01 August 2013

A decision on Duke Energy's application to build the proposed William States Lee nuclear power plant could be delayed by three years, the US regulator has stated.

Duke submitted a combined construction and operation licence (COL) application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the proposed Lee plant at the end of 2007. The application is based on two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors with a combined capacity of 2234 MWe at a greenfield site in Cherokee County, South Carolina.

In October 2012, Duke informed the NRC that it planned to relocate the two units "in order to manage project construction risks." Both units will be relocated 66 feet (20 metres) south and unit 1 will be relocated 50 feet (15 metres) east. At that time Duke expected that, "The impacts of relocation on the Lee COL application will be minor and are expected to simplify COL application presentation and improve margins to associated acceptance criteria."

Waste confidence

Last June, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the NRC's 'waste confidence rule,' which underpins its confidence in long-term waste management arrangements. The court ruled that this had been developed without considering the possibility that a permanent waste disposal facility in the USA might never actually be built.

The NRC is now developing an environmental impact statement on storing used nuclear fuel at power plant sites for extended periods, which will form part of a new 'waste confidence rule' fundamental to power plant licensing.

At the time, the NRC said it might take 24 months to develop the statement. In the meantime the lack of a robust position afforded by a waste confidence rule means that the NRC cannot issue final licenses to new nuclear power plants. In addition to the two Lee units, COLs for two reactors at Levy in Florida were also expected to be issued in late 2013.

However, the NRC has now informed Duke that its decision to relocate the Lee units "will require rework and affect the staff's completion of the review." In addition, Duke has also told the NRC that it expects to submit additional seismic information for the site, requested after the 2011 Fukushima accident, in January 2014. The NRC noted, "The timing of the seismic analysis submittal causes additional delays."

The review schedule for Duke's COL application has been changed to reflect these delays. While the final environmental impact statement is expected to be issued to the Environmental Protection Agency in December, the safety review process has now slipped by three years. The final safety evaluation report is now likely to be published in December 2015, instead of the previously expected date of November 2012.

The NRC said that the revised schedule also reflects its own budgetary and resource constraints which have led to "substantial impacts" on new reactor licensing activities. However, the commission said that if the budgetary situation and resource availability improves it will "review its schedules and adjust them, as appropriate."

Duke Energy has yet to make a decision on whether or not to actually construct the Lee plant, but filing a COL application will keep the option open and save time later should the company decide to proceed with it.

A protracted regulatory process to gain approval for the restart of the two-unit San Onofre nuclear power plant in California was cited as the reason for the plant's recent shutdown. Southern California Edison said that it could not afford to wait any longer for the NRC to make a decision, after over eight months of deliberation.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News