Regulator Approves GE-Hitachi ESBWR Design For US

By David Dalton
16 September 2014

16 Sep (NucNet): The Nuclear Regulatory Commission today approved a rule to certify GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s (GEH) Economic Simplified Boiling-Water Reactor (ESBWR) nuclear reactor design for use in the US.

NRC certification, in the form of today’s final rule, means the ESBWR meets the agency’s safety requirements.

If an applicant for a nuclear power plant licence references a certified design, then the applicant need not submit safety information for the design. Instead, the licence application and the NRC’s safety review would address only site-specific safety issues for the proposed plant.

GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy submitted its application for ESBWR certification in August 2005. The ESBWR is a 1,594 megawatt electric, natural circulation reactor.

The NRC said the design includes passive safety features that would cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for human intervention. These passive features include: natural circulation via a taller reactor vessel, a shorter core and improved water flow through the vessel; an isolation condenser system to control water levels and remove decay heat while the reactor is pressurized; and a gravity-driven cooling system to maintain water levels when the reactor pressure has dropped.

The NRC is reviewing two combined licence applications referencing the GEH design. Detroit Edison Company is seeking a licence for Fermi-3 in Michigan and Dominion is seeking a licence for North Anna-3 in Virginia.

In January 2014, GEH agreed to pay 2.7 million US dollars (about 1.9 million euros) for allegedly making false claims to the US Department of Energy and the NRC related to the ESBWR design.

GEH allegedly made the statements about a component of the ESBWR known as the steam dryer, which removes liquid water droplets from steam produced by the nuclear reaction that generates electricity in boiling-water type reactors.

GEH denied the allegations, but said resolution of the matter supported its continuing efforts to “maintain and enhance a positive working relationship” with the US government, and more specifically the NRC.

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