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Nuclear Regulation Authority Outline of the New Safety Standards for Light Water Reactors for Electric Power Generation
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(in English)

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Occasional Topics
OT3 (09-09-03)
US nuclear industry news
Owen F. Hedden (Former Chairman of ASME Code Sec. XI Subcommittee)
Comanche Peak NPS, USNRC, US-APWR, clean energy, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, natural gas, ASME, Code Cases

US nuclear industry news

This initial presentation will be a mixture of personal perspectives and of material published in 2009. Focus will be on Texas’s closest nuclear plant, Comanche Peak, having two PWR units. Comanche Peak is located about 70 km SW of Fort Worth, Texas, this writer’s home. Local public perception is influenced by the history of Comanche Peak. These units were among the last to be completed. Construction experienced many delays, many due to flawed design and construction but also due to uncertainty and indecision regarding new USNRC rules and rulings following the Three-Mile Island NPP accident. Comanche Peak took 19 years to build, 10 years overdue. $11 billion cost was $9 billion over budget, but it was undoubtedly a safer plant. A significant consideration in cost overruns was inflation and resulting high interest rates on nuclear plant construction funding in US at that time. This writer recalls purchasing bonds paying 16% annual interest from another nuclear utility at that time - cost of loan doubles in less than five years.

USNRC documents a number of public meetings regarding two new MHI US-APWR units planned for Comanche Peak NPS. A March 9 meeting in Washington D.C. with US-APWR Design Centered Working Group considered inservice inspection, inservice testing operational program, and reactor vessel integrity programs. On June 10-11, ASLB (Atomic Safety and Licensing Board) held a meeting in Granbury, Texas, near Comanche Peak NPS, regarding a combined operating license to construct and operate two US-APWR. On August 27, a meeting was held in Washington D.C. to discuss Revision 1 for the Comanche Peak NPS Combined License Application. A pre-application meeting was held August 25.

February 12 a public information meeting was held here in Fort Worth on addition of two US-APWR to Comanche Peak NPS, attended by the writer. It was presented by Luminant, with technical details from MHI engineer, including review of MHI reactor fabrication capability and planned 48 month project construction cycle.

March 29 a meeting was held here in Fort Worth by groups opposing addition of two US-APWR to Comanche Peak, attended by the writer. Meeting date was on 30th anniversary of Three-Mile Island NPP accident. Meeting handouts contained a mix of fact and misinformation. For instance, “nuclear power is more expensive than both wind and solar power” is blatantly false. Both wind and solar power are presently being used (less than 2% of electric generation) in Texas, with serious proposals for increases being considered, but both must be heavily subsidized. Proponents recognize that these not reliable sources, but only supplements to central station base-loaded electric generating stations. In Texas, cost of nuclear power generation is competitive with coal, and cheaper than natural gas. The opponent’s “factsheet” also erred in its assessment of plant lead time as ten years, of only one global source for manufacturing reactors, and of nuclear power reliability.

In an Aug 10 editorial, Fort Worth, Texas Star-Telegram daily newspaper supported Federal Energy legislation that proposes nuclear power for clean energy. This support is surprising since this newspaper strongly supports Texas business interests, and Texas is a major producer of oil and natural gas. Texas imports coal for electric generation, about 50% of its total electric generation. In Texas, its four existing nuclear units produce about 20% of Texas’s electricity. Natural gas units, which can be constructed much more quickly and cheaply, are used for almost 30%. Texas has no hydroelectric generation. The editorial concludes: “Nuclear energy is the most viable form of carbon-free baseload power available.”

July 5 the other nuclear power plant site in Texas, South Texas Project, a two unit BWR, announced suspension of work on adding two ABWR units due to funding problems.

ASME-USNRC interaction

ASME Code Committees must work closely with USNRC to obtain endorsement of ASME Nuclear Code revisions and Code Cases. USNRC recognizes this through revisions to its regulations. In April and June, USNRC issued for comment draft regulatory guides for Section III and Section XI Code Cases, to revise the Guides issued October 2007. On July 31, ASME issued extensive comments on conditions USNRC had placed in the drafts on use of the Code Cases. It is expected that many of these will be resolved based on discussions with USNRC during the ASME Code meetings held August 10-14.

US nuclear industry news written by Owen F. Hedden (Former Chairman of ASME Code Sec. XI Subcommittee)