Regulator OKs the start of Summer

02 April 2012

Two AP1000 reactors at the VC Summer plant in South Carolina are to be the second US new-build project to receive combined construction and operation licences (COLs) after receiving the final regulatory go-ahead.

VC Summer 2 and 3 (NRC)
Artist's impression of Summer units 2 and 3 (Image: NRC)

Four of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) five commissioners voted that the NRC staff's review of South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) and Santee Cooper's application for the units was "adequate" for the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC's Office of New Reactors (NRO) to issue the COLs. The COLs should be issued within the next two weeks, in the culmination of a process that began with the submission of the COL application in March 2008.

The NRC has imposed two conditions on the COLs. The first condition requires inspection and testing of squib valves, which are important components of the reactors' passive cooling system. Secondly, the NRC has directed that strategies must be developed to respond to extreme natural events resulting in the loss of power at the new reactors. The NRC has also directed the NRO to issue an order requiring enhanced, reliable used fuel instrumentation, and a request for information on emergency plant staffing, alongside the COLs.

The regulator's announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by SCANA Corporation subsidiary SCE&G and state-owned utility Santee Cooper. SCANA chairman and CEO Kevin Marsh described the approval as a "significant event for our company", while Santee Cooper president and CEO Lonnie Carter said the new units would be a "critical component" of the utility's long-term plans for a diversified energy mix.

The two new Westinghouse AP1000s will share a site with an existing pressurised water reactor, VC Summer unit 1, operated by SCE&G and co-owned by SCE&G and Santee Cooper. SCE&G and Santee Cooper signed an engineering and procurement contract with a consortium of reactor vendor Westinghouse and the Shaw Group in May 2008, and by September 2011 site preparation work was advanced.

Delays in securing the COLs - SCE&G had anticipated receiving approval in 2011 - have led to a rescheduling of completion dates for the units and to issues with early cost overruns which have recently been settled in an agreement between SCE&G and the Westinghouse-Shaw consortium. The new units are expected to enter operation in 2017 and 2018.

The NRC issued COLs for two new units at Southern Company's Vogtle plant - the first US nuclear new build in nearly 30 years - in early February. Like VC Summer units 2 and 3, the Vogtle units are to be AP1000s built by Shaw and Westinghouse.

The announcement of the VC Summer COLs came at the very end of the tenure of Westinghouse CEO Aris Candris, whose retirement was announced by the company in January.

"Today, as I end my professional career and tenure as president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Company, I applaud the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's decision to grant South Carolina Electric & Gas a combined construction and operating licence," said Candris, describing the step as a "clear affirmation" of nuclear's continuing important role in the USA's current and future energy mix. "Thirty-seven years ago when I started my career in the nuclear industry, I truly believed then, as much as I do now, that nuclear energy must play a major role in supplying the baseload electricity that will contribute to sustainable, global economic growth," he said.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News