Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko has voted in favor of the final certification rule for Westinghouse Electric Company's AP1000 pressurized water reactor design. His vote, dated December 6, was posted in the ADAMS document system on the NRC Web site, at 9:49 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on December 9; it can be downloaded from ADAMS with the accession number ML113430027.
The whole NRC has not yet taken formal action, and it was not known whether or how the other four commissioners voted. Jaczko often publishes his votes, and his comments explaining them, before the affirmation sessions held by the commissioners to record their votes formally. It has not been expected that the other commissioners would oppose AP1000 certification, but each member has his or her own decision-making process, and sets his or her own schedule for voting.
The AP1000 must be certified before combined operating licenses can be issued for the first two projects for new power reactors in the United States-Southern Nuclear Operating Company's Vogtle-3 and -4 in Georgia, and SCANA/Santee Cooper's Summer-2 and -3 in South Carolina. These projects are based on the standard AP1000 design. The license applications are also awaiting votes by the commissioners, who are acting as the licensing board for Vogtle and Summer. The licenses are for both construction and operation. So far, no safety-related construction has been allowed at either Vogtle or Summer.
The NRC has had a tentative schedule to approve licenses for Vogtle this month, and for Summer in January 2012. The licenses cannot be issued, however, until after the AP1000 is fully certified. The agency's regulations stipulate that licenses cannot be issued until the design certification has gone into effect, and that would be 30 days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register. The tentative schedule mentioned earlier anticipated publication in January, and thus an effective date in February.
Southern Nuclear has requested that the NRC waive the 30-day waiting period and allow licenses to be issued upon final rule publication. In an additional set of comments with his vote, Jaczko stated that he is generally not in favor of this (and indicated that there has been discussion among the commissioners, which he says "has not been transacted publicly and candidly"), but that he would not rule it out. He also said that he believes Southern Nuclear should have the opportunity to show good cause for a waiver of the 30-day wait.
The NRC often holds affirmation sessions prior to scheduled public meetings on other topics. The only meeting the commission has scheduled before the end of the year is on Tuesday, December 13, at 9 a.m. EST. At this writing, the NRC had not announced the addition of an affirmation session on that date.
Further information, and coverage of later events likely to occur, will be published in the January issue of Nuclear News, the American Nuclear Society's news magazine.
E. Michael Blake is a senior editor of the American Nuclear Society's Nuclear News magazine.