Exelon opts for resurgent ABWR

26 March 2009

A GE Hitachi reactor should be built by Exelon at Victoria after all. The utility dropped the ESBWR design in November last year, but will now use the ABWR design instead.




GE Hitachi confirmed the fact to World Nuclear News: "We are happy that our Unified ABWR design was selected by Exelon and that our alliance with Hitachi will be used for the engineering to compliment the construction process."


The decision will be welcome at GE Hitachi, two of whose 1550 MWe ESBWR reactors were originally pencilled in for Exelon's Victoria site in north Texas. Despite submitting a combined construction and operating licence application in September 2008, Exelon later decided two months later that ESBWR was not near enough to deployment to qualify for loan guarantees from the US government.


Exelon said at the time: "We are seeking improved eligibility for federal loan guarantees, which is critical to the advancement of the project."


Exelon must now revise the reactor-specific parts of its COL documentation. A final decision whether of not to build is expected next year.


Resurgence of ABWR?


The ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor) is a more advanced design than ABWR (Advanced Boiling Water Reactor), but it has never yet been built. It is currently in the process of design certification with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but this is seen as moving slowly and the pace of progress has also affected ESBWR's potential for deployment in the UK.


The ABWR, however, already has US design certification. Five of the units are already in operation in Japan, with two under construction on Taiwan. Earlier this week GEH signed a memorandum with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd towards building up to six of the power machines.


In addition to these, two ABWRs are planned for the South Texas Project site in the USA, but these are to be engineered and constructed by a Toshiba-led consortium following a variation on the NRC-certified design which works around certain GE proprietary design features. Before GE's partnership with Hitachi, the firms cooperated with Toshiba on two ABWR projects.


US utilities Entergy and Dominion also reconsidered ESBWR at about the same time as Exelon, putting into question three single-reactor licence applications: 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. Those companies would be expected to be considering ABWR, so a potential fleet of ABWRs looks a real possibility.


Dominion said that it would look around for other companies to lead the construction of an ESBWR, but also that it would consider other designs.


In 2007 Entergy signed a deal on behalf of NuStart for the procurement of large forgings and "several schedule-critical nuclear and turbine components" for ESBWR. The design remains on the books for Detroit Edison's Fermi site.