Georgia leads way in next generation of nuclear design

Georgia leads way in next generation of nuclear design

December 13th, 2009 in News

The first of the next generation design of nuclear plants hasn't been fully endorsed yet by regulators, but Georgians will begin paying for the new nuclear plant design in January 2011.

Under a rate plan approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission earlier this year, Georgia Power Co. customers will pay an extra 1.3 percent every year from 2011 through 2017 to cover financing costs for two new nuclear reactors to be built at the Plant Vogtle site near Waynesboro, Ga.

Customers of Dalton Utilities, which also owns part of the Vogtle plant, also will pay for part of the construction of the new AP1000 reactors. But with only a 1.6 percent stake in the plant, Dalton Utilities President Don Cope said the initial rate impact shouldn't be that much in Dalton.

Designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., the AP1000 reactors could be built at a half dozen other sites in the Southeast where utilities are looking for more nuclear power, including TVA's Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant in Northeast Alabama. The AP1000 design is simpler than current pressurized water reactors, using only half as many pumps and motors for comparable output, according to Westinghouse officials.

Utility officials said they are turning to nuclear generation for more future power generation because of the projected higher expenses for carbon-based fuel generation stemming from pending new rules on gases linked with global warming.

"The purchase of additional nuclear power is necessary because, as just ruled by the EPA, we need to control carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, and nuclear power releases no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," Mr. Cope said. "Nuclear power is the most economical and environmentally friendly currently in Dalton Utilities' generating stack."

But Westinghouse is still revising its plans for the new reactor to gain certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Regulators initially certified the AP1000 design two years ago. But when Westinghouse attempted to amend the design of the shield building to use modular steel and concrete forms to cut costs, the NRC rejected the changes.

NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Westinghouse officials met with the NRC on Nov. 18 and outlined their approach to addressing the regulatory concerns while continuing to use a modular concrete and steel design.

"They said they would be submitting a detailed revision to their shield building approach sometime in January," he said. "Once we have it and take a look at it, that would be the point at which we would start trying to figure out what the review schedule going forward will look like."

The changes are not expected to slow the planned 2011 construction start for the AP1000 at Plant Vogtle, Georgia Power Co. spokesman Jeff Wilson said.

"We continue on our same schedule to have our Unit 3 on line in 2016 and Unit 4 in 2017 to meet our baseload needs for Georgia Power customers," he said.

Plant Vogtle ownership

* Georgia Power -- 45.7 percent

* Oglethorpe Power Corp. -- 30 percent

* Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia -- 22.7 percent

* Dalton Utilities -- 1.6 percent