NRC OKs Building 2 More Nukes

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 @ 04:04 PM gHale

Scana Corp. gained approval to build nuclear reactors, the second construction permit issued by regulators in more than 30 years.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted 4-1 to approve the Cayce, SC, company’s plan to construct and operate two units at its Virgil C. Summer plant, about 26 miles northwest of Columbia, SC.

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NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko dissented, citing pending safety rules in response to Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster in Japan.

“I continue to believe that we should require that all Fukushima-related safety enhancements are implemented before these new reactors begin operating,” Jaczko said in his vote.

Scana, which submitted its application to the NRC in March 2008, will pay 55 percent of the estimated $10.2 billion cost of the project. Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s largest power producer, is responsible for the remainder.

The reactors are among five units that may be built in the U.S. before 2020, as a glut of natural gas has discouraged investment in other types of generation, including nuclear power. Scana’s first unit won’t be operational until 2017, about a year behind schedule, because of delays in the NRC’s licensing process, the company said.

“Receiving approval of our licenses to construct and operate units 2 and 3 at V.C. Summer is a significant event for our company,” said Kevin Marsh, Scana’s chairman and chief executive. “We look forward to building these two new nuclear units to enhance our ability to meet the energy needs of our customers.”

Southern Co. on Feb. 9 won U.S. approval to build two reactors at its Vogtle plant near Augusta, GA, becoming the first company to receive an NRC construction permit since 1978. The Atlanta-based company expects the first unit to be in service by 2016, with the second a year later.

A 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island station near Harrisburg, PA, slowed development of U.S. nuclear power, which accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Scana and Southern plan to build AP1000 reactors designed by Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric Co. Scana’s second unit will be operational by 2018, a year ahead of schedule, under an agreement with project managers Westinghouse of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, and Shaw Group Inc. of Baton Rouge, LA, according to the utility.

The NRC is weighing rules to improve the safety of U.S. reactors after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 triggered a triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. Jaczko opposed his four colleagues’ approval of Southern’s license, stating the commission should have required the company to adhere to lessons from the Fukushima disaster.

The NRC on March 9 approved its first orders in response to the disaster, including a requirement for reactor owners to have in place by 2016 sufficient emergency equipment to survive a power failure.

The nuclear industry has drafted a plan to supply plants with portable back-up gear, including pumps and generators, helping to speed the regulatory process, Martin Virgilio, the NRC’s deputy executive director for reactors and preparedness programs, said Jan. 13.

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