Progress Energy Reactor Review May Be Delayed, NRC Chief Says

Progress Energy Inc., which is proposing to build nuclear reactors in Florida, may face greater scrutiny and delays than other utilities, due to Japan’s nuclear disaster last year, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said.

While the NRC has approved plans by Scana Corp. and Southern Co. to build reactors, its review of Progress’s bid to construct identical units may be slowed by an agency analysis of U.S. plant safety after meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

“This may delay issuance of the final safety review” for Progress’s plan to build two reactors in Levy County, Florida, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Tampa, Jaczko said yesterday in a written vote, as the panel approved Scana’s application to construct reactors at an existing plant near Columbia, South Carolina.

“We could expect similar delays for future” licenses, said Jaczko, who cast the lone dissenting vote because the five-member commission didn’t require Scana, of Cayce, South Carolina, to implement all rules developed in response to the Japan disaster.

Applications for new reactors aren’t being held to a consistent safety standard, said Jaczko, who wants the commission to add a license condition requiring all Fukushima safety enhancements be incorporated before new plants go into service.

Different Standards

The NRC’s evolving review process means that three projects with identical reactor designs, whose applications were filed within a four-month span in 2008, will all be held to different safety standards. The agency on Feb. 9 approved Southern’s plan to build reactors at an existing plant near Augusta, Georgia.

Both companies, as well as Raleigh, North Carolina-based Progress, plan to build AP1000 units, designed by Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric unit.

Jaczko wants the NRC to require companies building reactors to comply with rules being developed in response to the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. He also wants the rules to be implemented by 2016, faster than an NRC staff schedule for reviews of seismic risks at plants.

The NRC on March 9 approved its first orders related to the disaster, including a requirement for plants to have in place, by 2016, emergency equipment to survive a power failure. The agency has also asked reactor owners to provide additional information about plant safety, including reviews of earthquake and flooding hazards.

Additional Reviews

Regulators notified Progress “a couple weeks ago” that it faced additional review, including seismic analysis, for the two reactors it is considering building in Levy County, Florida, said Mike Hughes, a company spokesman.

Progress, which is attempting to merge with Duke Energy Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina, hasn’t decided whether to build the reactors.

“We don’t yet know what impact the request and additional analysis will have on the schedule,” Hughes said in an e-mail.

The earliest the Progress units would come online is 2021, Hughes said. The company would have enough time to implement Fukushima-related orders, according to Jaczko.

Passive Safety Features

Reactor operators, including Scana, have been preparing for the commission’s regulatory response to the Japan disaster, Marsh said. Regulations shouldn’t be as onerous for new reactors such as the AP1000 that are equipped with passive safety features designed to cool down a reactor during a blackout without needing electricity or human intervention.

The agency awarded Southern a reactor-construction permit without requiring the Atlanta-based company to comply with rules developed in response to Fukushima. Scana’s license calls for the company to implement an order, issued last month, to have reliable equipment to inspect spent-fuel cooling pools. The NRC has also directed Scana to monitor and test valve systems, which it didn’t require of Southern.

“There should be consistencies” with the licenses, Jaczko said in an interview.

The NRC has the authority to make owners and license applicants comply with Fukushima-related rules, Paul Dickman, who served as chief-of-staff to former NRC Chairman Dale Klein, said in an interview.

“They’re the NRC. They have all the guns. They have all the bullets,” said Dickman, who heads the public policy committee for the American Nuclear Society, a professional organization for nuclear experts and engineers.

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