U.S. NRC's Jaczko Defends New Reactor License Reviews: Platts Energy Podium

Feb 02, 2011, 15:01 ET from Platts

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Chairman Gregory Jaczko said Wednesday that the agency's reviews of applications to build and operate new nuclear power plants are proceeding at a deliberate pace, but declined to say whether he expects any of those reviews to be completed by the end of the year.

Speaking at a Platts Energy Podium event in Washington, D.C., Jaczko said the agency "will continue to work on a schedule that puts us in a position to possibly make some decisions by the end of the year" on one or more of the 17 applications for combined construction permit-operating licenses, or COLs, now under review.

Jaczko said, however, that he "can't predict when a license will actually be issued, because it will be issued when all our stringent safety and security requirements are met."

A decision by the commission is expected in "late summer or early fall," Jaczko said, regarding Westinghouse Electric's request to amend the NRC design certification for its AP1000 design, which is referenced by 7 COL applications for a potential 14 units. Reviews of three other designs are also close to completion, Jaczko said.

Asked about complaints by some members of Congress that NRC is taking too long to complete new reactor licensing reviews, Jaczko said an independent review by the Bipartisan Policy Center headed by former NRC Chairman Richard Meserve and former New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici concluded last year that NRC "is making very good progress" in those reviews and "the process is working well."

Meserve and Domenici said in their April 2010 report that there is "no evidence" that NRC or the nuclear industry "has needlessly delayed or extended" the licensing process for new power reactors.

The priority of the agency staff in such reviews is "safety and security" rather than "schedules," Jaczko said. "I don't hear from the [nuclear power] industry that they have a concern with the pace" of the reviews, he said.

The NRC expects to see the first license applications for so-called small modular reactors in 2012, but that is not anticipated to affect the staff's ability to complete ongoing license reviews of larger reactors, he said.

As he has said before, Jaczko said the NRC staff will consider potential revisions of the new reactor licensing process to increase its "efficiency and effectiveness" after the first few reviews are completed.

Jaczko declined to comment on agency adjudication regarding the U.S. Department of Energy's request to withdraw its application to build a geological nuclear waste repository at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. The agency's requested budget for fiscal 2011 only provides funding to terminate that project and facilitate "knowledge management" to memorialize technical findings of the review, as will the fiscal year (FY) 2012 request, he said.

Asked if NRC might experience funding problems if Congress funds the government in FY-2011 using another continuing resolution, Jaczko said NRC is "well-positioned with resources" to continue its work at "essentially the same funding levels for the last year or two."

The NRC's regulatory focus will always be "the safety and security of the existing fleet" of 104 operating power reactors, Jaczko said. If resource constraints arise, the staff "might perhaps defer work and push some work out into the future" on its licensing reviews, he said.

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