Regulators gear up for nuclear revival

Apr 14 - McClatchy-Tribune
> Regional News - Dave Flessner Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
> For America's power industry and its regulators, the long nuclear
> winter appears to be over.
> With proposals for 26 new reactors from TVA and 16 other
> utilities, the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said
> Monday the agency is gearing up for its biggest workload in a
> generation.
> The NRC has added nearly 1,000 more employees in the past six
> years to review plans for the next generation of nuclear reactors and
> the fuel enrichment plants that will supply the additional units.
> "This is a very busy time for us," NRC Chairman Dale Klein said
> Monday after touring the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar
> Nuclear Plant.
> "It's a challenge, but we believe we are ready and are committed to
> continuing to protect the public health and safety."
> NRC and TVA officials said Monday they do not anticipate the kind
> of problems with the new reactors that led to costly delays at TVA
> plants built in the 1980s and 1990s.
> TVA was within days of loading nuclear fuel at its Watts Bar Unit
> 1 in
> 1985 when safety problems were discovered that led to an 11-year delay
> and a doubling of the cost to finish the unit.
> "We know a lot more today than we did in 1985 and we have
> resident inspectors that have been closely watching what has been
> going on,"
> Klein
> said.
> No new nuclear reactor construction projects have been started in
> the United States since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.
> TVA spent more than $6 billion on Watts Bar Unit 1 and now
> expects to finish Unit 2 at Watts Bar for another $2.5 billion. The
> plant is located near Spring City, Tenn.
> Klein and NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki are touring TVA
> facilities this week in preparation for the agency's decisions on
> licenses for the plants over the next decade. The federal utility is
> building what may be the last of the previous generation of nuclear
> plants at its Watts Bar plant and what may be one of the first of the
> next generation of reactors at its Bellefonte site in Northeast
> Alabama.
> TVA and the Southern Co. in Georgia also are proposing to build
> more reactors using a new AP-1000 design by Westinghouse Corp. Utility
> officials say the new reactors can supply additional power in the next
> decade without the greenhouse emissions caused by coal-fired power
> plants.
> Critics of nuclear power fear that regulators are not being tough
> enough on the utility industry. They claim the NRC shouldn't approve
> older designs like the ice condenser containment system at Watts Bar,
> which is smaller and less secure than other types of containment.
> Anti-nuclear critics also want the NRC to do more to review new
> plant designs.
> "The NRC has been very reluctant to make changes that impose more
> burdens on the industry, yet they are vigorously pursuing risk-
> informed changes to reduce regulations," said Ed Lyman, senior staff
> scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
> Klein insisted that the ice condenser containment used at Watts
> Bar and eight other reactors, including TVA's Sequoyah plant near
> Soddy- Daisy, "certainly meet the objectives that they need to in the
> unlikely event of an accident."
> But the NRC chairman said he doesn't anticipate such containment
> to be used in the future because of the challenges of maintaining the
> ice in the walls of the containment building.
> At the urging of Congress, the NRC streamlined its licensing
> process for new plants. Manufacturers have designed what they claim
> will be simpler and safer nuclear plants built in a more standardized
> fashion than the previous generation.
> Louise Gorenflo, a member of the Bellefonte Efficiency and
> Sustainability Team, which is fighting the proposed Bellefonte
> reactors by TVA, questions the safety of the new design.
> "These are untested reactors whose cost seems to continually go
> up,"
> she said.
> After touring Watts Bar, Klein said he was "very impressed" at
> the amount of construction already done and praised TVA's well-planned
> approach to the project.
> "It was much farther along than I had expected," he said.