|Nissan 2011 Infinit Fx|
Unlike buying a car, you can't just decide that if you don't want an Audi or BMW, that you can just walk over to the Nissan lot to look at Infiniti models. Ordering a nuclear reactor is a bit more complicated and you can't just drive one off the lot.
Nuclear reactors have to pass stringent safety reviews by national regulatory agencies full of inquisitive engineers being paid to ask pesky questions about pumps, pipes, and power.
In the UK the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) was set up by the government to review the safety of reactor designs before they could be sold to utilities. So far just two vendors has completed most of the steps required to get the stamp of approval. Areva and Westinghouse are well on their way with the Westinghouse AP1000 nearest to the finish line.
Buy a Russian reactor?
Coming in from the outside, the Russian state-owned nuclear export firm Rosatom is said to be interested in the Horizon project. The challenge facing Rosatom is that its 1200 MW PWR design hasn't even been submitted, much less reviewed, by the GDA process.
|The Russians are coming|
State-run publication “Russia Beyond the Headlines” also quoted Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko as saying the country is interested in offering VVERs for the Horizon Nuclear Power project.
Even more interesting is the uncorroborated report that Rosatom might seek safety certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Nuclear Street, an Internet based news and commercial portal, reported last week Rosatom is expected to apply for design certification in the U.S. and the U.K. for its VVER pressurized water reactor design.
My guess is the Russians have no interest in actually selling any VVERs in the US. What they may want is the NRC's "gold standard" safety certification for confidence building with customers in global markets. In effect, they would be buying the nuclear equivalent of an Underwriters' Laboratory label.
Get a customer or take a number?
The problem with a Russian reactor design certification submission to the NRC is the lack of a plausible U.S. customer. That could result in a message from the NRC to the Russians that might say "call us when you get one." It doesn't mean Rostom's ambitions are stymied.
The Russians are building two VVERs domestically and pushing the design globally. Rosatom also has a deal to build two VVERs for Vietnam. I'm not familiar with how India certifies reactor designs, but some official process had to have been brought to bear on the twin 1000 MW VVERs built and now in hot start up at Kudankulam.
It seems that globally, safety certification is not necessarily a precondition for a sale. As far as reactor vendors are concerned, the lunch counter is open and anyone can place an order.
|Want fries with that?|
The UAE bought the South Korean 1400 MW units solely on that nation's say so they are safe. Of course that's what we've done here in the U.S. with the Westinghouse AP1000. However, China signed up to build four of them several years before the NRC issued its certification in December 2011.
Two reactors slated for U.S. markets delayed
Platts reported June 20 that the NRC's certification of G.E. Hitachi's new 1,500 MW ESBWR reactor has been delayed until 2013. World Nuclear News reported May 31 that Areva's EPR reactor is unlikely to receive certification before the end of 2014.
One customer in the U.S. has referenced the ESBWR which is Detroit Edison for the Fermi III. Dominion dropped the ESBWR for North Anna 3 in favor of a 1500 MW version of a Mitsubishi PWR type reactor. However, the NRC website shows the certification schedule for that reactor being under revision. No date is shown for completion.
Platts reported that the issue with the ESBWR has to do with calculations that address the performance of the steam dryer for the unit.
|The NRC's 'gold standard' |
for reactor safety certification is important,
but not a requirement for global deals
The delay for the Areva EPR at the NRC may not matter either, or at least not very much, in the U.S. Four COL applications were submitted to the NRC referencing the Areva EPR, but progress is unlikely on any of them in the near term. And some may give up on the reactor entirely.
In Missouri, Ameren is pursuing development of a small modular reactor design being offered by Westinghouse. The 225 MW unit could come in at a cost of about $1 billion compared to a price tag of $6.6-7.0 billion for a 1,600 MW EPR.
In Maryland, Constellation has been acquired by Exelon which has publicly said that very low prices for natural gas make it economically impossible to build a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.
The NRC told Areva the delay in safety certification hinges on the reactor vendor resolving issues involving the complex interactions of various safety systems. World Nuclear News noted in its report that the NRC sent a letter to Areva saying completion of safety certification by the end of 2014 could be a challenge.
Meanwhile. Areva said in June that it expects to sign a deal with NPCIL to build two EPRs at Jaitpur, a port city on India's west coast in Maharashtra. The firm is also building two EPRs for China. It is bidding on the Temelin project in the Czech Republic, expected to bid on a 9 Gwe tender in South Africa, and is offering a scaled down version to Jordan.
So while safety certification delays come and go, marketing goes on in spite of progress, or the lack of it, by the US NRC or anyone else. Gold standard or not, to roads that lead to new reactor deals will roll on.
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