First licence for ESBWR

01 May 2015

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved DTE Energy's combined construction and operation licence (COL) for Fermi 3, the first construction licence to be awarded to GE Hitachi's ESBWR reactor design.

ESBWR_model_ (GEH)_460
GEH's ESBWR design (Image: GEH)

The licence, which NRC says will be issued promptly, will authorize DTE Energy to build and operate the unit at a site adjacent to its operating Fermi 2 boiling water reactor on the shores of Lake Erie. The company has not committed to building the new plant but says it intends to keep the option open for long-term planning purposes.

The COL references GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's (GEH) Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), which received design certification from the NRC in September 2014. The 1600 MWe reactor includes passive safety features which would allow it to cool itself without the need for external electricity supplies or human intervention, and also uses fewer pumps and mechanical drives than reactors with so-called active safety systems. According to GEH, the ESBWR also offers the lowest projected operating, maintenance and staffing costs in the nuclear industry on a per-kilowatt basis.

NRC's decision concludes a technical, safety and environmental review process that began when DTE submitted the COL application for the proposed plant in September 2008. The regulator completed its environmental review and issued the final environmental impact statement for the plant in January 2014.

The COL application was submitted before the Fukushima Daiichi accident of 2011, and conditions that the NRC has imposed on the licence address the regulator's post-Fukushima requirements for mitigation strategies, spent fuel pool instrumentation, and emergency preparedness plans and procedures. Another condition requires monitoring and analysis of the plant's steam dryer during initial start-up, in line with NRC's current requirements for existing BWRs operating at increased power levels.

GEH congratulated DTE on the receipt of the new licence, which GEH president and CEO Caroline Reda described as an "important milestone for the ESBWR".

A second ESBWR COL application, for Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna 3, is under consideration by the NRC. According to GEH, that project is expected to receive a licence in 2016. The company also said that the NRC certification has paved the way for it to be built in other locations around the world, and pointed to Brazil, India, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden and Vietnam as potential project locations.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News