WASHINGTON — In a setback for the only model of nuclear reactor for which ground has been broken in the United States, government regulators have found additional problems with the design of its shield building, a crucial component, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Friday.
The chairman, Gregory B. Jaczko, said that computations submitted by Westinghouse, the manufacturer of the new AP1000 reactor, about the building’s design appeared to be wrong and “had led to more questions.” He said the company had not used a range of possible temperatures for calculating potential seismic stresses on the shield building in the event of an earthquake, for example.
Mr. Jaczko said the commission was asking Westinghouse not only to fix its calculations but also to explain why it submitted flawed information in the first place. Earlier this year the commission staff said it needed additional calculations from Westinghouse to confirm the strength of the AP1000’s shield building. The building has not been built; the analysis of its strength and safety is all computer based.
The announcement comes as the commission and the American nuclear industry are facing increased scrutiny as a result of the calamity that began after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan in March, leading to releases of radioactive material. Various critics have asked the commission to suspend licensing of new plants, the relicensing of old ones and various other activities until the implications of the Fukushima accident are clearer.
While the commission has said it will evaluate the Japanese accident methodically, it had previously said it did not anticipate that this would cause a delay in approving the AP1000. Now, however, it appears far warier that it will finish this summer.
Westinghouse countered in a statement that the “confirmatory items” that the commission was asking for were not “safety significant.” It noted, and the commission agreed, that the company had been the first to identify some of the problems itself. Still, the commission seems to have taken a slightly darker view.
The Southern Company has already dug the foundations and done other preliminary work for two of the AP1000 reactors adjacent to its existing reactors at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Ga. The Energy Department has promised loan guarantees for that project provided that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves the design.
South Carolina Electric and Gas has broken ground for another two, 20 miles northwest of Columbia.
The commission had previously said it expected to approve the AP1000 design this summer. But on Friday a spokesman for the commission, Scott Burnell, said the decision would be delayed for a period of time that he could not specify until Westinghouse submitted a third round of revised calculations.
“They need to be doing the work correctly and completely, and we need to have confidence that that’s what they’re doing,” said one commission official, who said he was not authorized to be quoted by name. “They have additional work they need to do, and a short time to complete it if it’s not going to have a significant impact on their schedule.” end partial quote.
“20 Sep 2017 | 15:00 GMT
A Bittersweet Milestone for the World’s Safest Nuclear Reactors
Westinghouse is poised to start up its first AP1000 nuclear reactors in China, fighting on in a troubled market
By Peter Fairley
False Start: Installation of the containment dome at China’s Haiyang nuclear plant in August 2015 was the end of the beginning of this AP1000 facility’s problems.
By late this year or early in 2018, two nuclear reactors could start operating in China—an event that might be a lifesaver for the units’ crippled builder and designer, Westinghouse Electric Co., and for the technology they represent. Both Westinghouse and its prized AP1000 reactor design have suffered a series of humbling setbacks this year.
The AP1000 is arguably the world’s most advanced commercial reactor. It is designed to passively cool itself during an accidental shutdown, theoretically avoiding accidents like those at Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. And for over a decade, it has been the presumed successor to China’s mainstay reactors, which employ a 1970s-era French design.
Yet after more than three decades of engineering, regulatory reviews, salesmanship, and construction, the AP1000 has yielded zero electricity and plenty of trouble. Delays and cost overruns at the four reactors under construction in China and another four in the United States drove Westinghouse into bankruptcy this March. And in July, South Carolina utilities abandoned their pair of partially built AP1000s—on which they and Westinghouse have spent US $9 billion.
But the Chinese reactors, at the Haiyang Nuclear Power Plant in Shandong and at the Sanmen plant in Zhejiang, could press the reset button for the AP1000 and Westinghouse. And China is where success really matters most because it is the only country building reactors by the dozen.
The question, say experts, is what share the AP1000 can capture of a Chinese reactor market that has taken a downturn since the Fukushima accident and may slow even further. Government plans to tie nuclear power rates to wholesale prices for coal-fired power will “definitely mean a slowdown of nuclear power construction down the road,” says Henry Chan, an Asian geopolitics expert at the National University of Singapore who tracks China’s nuclear energy sector.
The AP1000’s ascent in China began in 2004 when the government launched a rigorous two-year evaluation aimed at selecting an advanced Western reactor design that would underpin its future nuclear sector. The Westinghouse reactor beat out the latest French-German EPR and Russian VVER designs, thanks to its promised blend of safety, affordability via modular construction, and the company’s willingness to progressively transfer ownership of the intellectual property to China.
China’s domestic nuclear giants, China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) and China General Nuclear Power Corp. (CGN), opposed reliance on a Western design. So, in 2009, Beijing launched a new entity, the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp. (SNPTC), to oversee construction of two pairs of AP1000s: the plants at Haiyang and Sanmen.
The Fukushima accident, in 2011, seemed to further cement the AP1000’s status as the preferred reactor for the future, with its emphasis on passive safety. However, to seal the deal, Westinghouse and SNPTC needed a completed AP1000 project in order to prove that the design worked and was cost effective. It has been a long wait for the first Sanmen and Haiyang reactors, which were to begin operating in 2013 and 2014.
Post-Fukushima safety inspections and requirements have contributed to the delays, but no more so than design flaws and construction mishaps. In 2015, safety inspectors discovered that the steam pipe exiting one of Sanmen’s reactor pressure vessels had been improperly installed.
Meanwhile, water circulation pumps critical to the reactors’ safe operation had to be modified after delivery. The massive pumps worked fine under normal conditions. But when the power shut off, their blades stopped spinning—and cooling water stopped flowing—before the AP1000’s signature passive cooling could kick in.
(transcriber: the AP1000, despite its questionable passive ECCS system, still has this emergency cooling system with functioning time limit of 8 hours – the same time limit which the afflicted Fukushima reactor ECCS have. Eight hours is not enough, as Fukushima shows. The time limit for ECCS functioning life span in emergency is a Western arrogance.)
Such delays mean major cost overruns. The projected cost to complete the AP1000 pair abandoned in South Carolina had spiraled upward from $10 billion to an estimated $25 billion. The Chinese AP1000s’ ultimate price tag is hard to project. “We know very little about the actual costs. The data sources are pretty opaque,” says M.V. Ramana, an expert in international security and energy supply issues at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.
What is clear, says Ramana, is that missed deadlines and cost escalation have hurt the AP1000’s future prospects. While the AP1000 schedule slid, CNNC and CGN raced to certify their own competing enhanced-safety design.
The Hualong One reactor design was certified by China’s nuclear authorities in 2014, and construction of the first four units began in 2015 and 2016. Since then, several projects originally slated to feature AP1000 reactors have switched camps.
Westinghouse and SNPTC, meanwhile, have recently shifted strategy, according to the World Nuclear Association. As of May 2017, AP1000s had accounted for over half of the 38 reactors in the advanced planning stages. By August, nearly all of the planned AP1000s had been supplanted by an SNPTC domestic adaptation of the Westinghouse reactor, dubbed the CAP1000.
Regardless of which design dominates, a bigger question remains: How big a piece of China’s overall energy sector will nuclear command? Renewable power has eclipsed nuclear in terms of investment and output. And at the current rate of construction, say analysts, China is likely to fall short of its 2020 nuclear generation target. That goal was set at 70 to 80 gigawatts in 2010, then slashed to 58 GW after the Fukushima accident. But even with the completion of all reactors being built as of August 2017—several of which are scheduled to start up in 2021— China’s output will be less than 56 GW.
Further endangering nuclear power’s prospects are the Chinese government’s moves to cut wholesale rates for nuclear energy and a growing power supply glut. In Ramana’s view, China’s nuclear sector may have already peaked: “The rapid growth of nuclear power in China is a thing of the past.”
This article appears in the October 2017 print issue as “A Pyrrhic Victory for Nuclear Power.”
Safety Problems Again Delay China’s Sanmen Westinghouse AP1000 Nuclear Energy Project
February 15th, 2018 by James Ayre
“Nuclear energy proponents often cite the seeming ongoing support for nuclear energy in China and Russia when arguing that the western world is being left behind by its move away from the electricity generation modality. What they don’t tell you, though, is that the projects in question are in general running way behind schedule, and are repeatedly unnerving regulators due to the presence of unresolved “safety concerns.”
With that in mind, the China Daily has now reported that fuel-loading at the Sanmen nuclear energy project on the coast — to be the world’s first Westinghouse-designed AP1000 nuclear reactor — has again been delayed. This time due to the aforementioned “safety concerns.”
Delays have been a common occurrence on the project, as the original plan was for the project to go online in 2014.
Before moving on, it should be stated bluntly here that regulators in China haven’t approved any new nuclear energy projects in over two years. Clearly, the government there is beginning to become skeptical of the technology, and the timelines presented by project creators.
Reuters provides more:
“Officials with the US-based Westinghouse expected fuel loading to start last year, and it would have been followed by around 6 months of performance tests before the reactor could go into full operation in 2018. But fuel loading has now been suspended as China tries to ensure the project meets the highest possible safety standards, the China Daily said, citing a spokesman with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC).
“Westinghouse, owned by Japan’s Toshiba, signed an agreement in 2007 to build 4 AP1000 reactor units at 2 sites in China, hoping the projects would serve as a shop window for the firm. But the company filed for bankruptcy last March, hit by billions of dollars of cost overruns at 4 nuclear reactors under construction in the United States.
“China was originally seen as the lifeline for the global nuclear sector, with the country keen to approve dozens of new reactor projects to ease its dependence on polluting coal-fired electricity…But the pace of planned nuclear construction in the country was scaled back in 2011 in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.”
Elsewhere, the situation regarding nuclear energy project delays and cost-overruns is similar, with the technology seemingly not capable of supporting the grandiose claims often made by those hawking it to governments around the world.” end quote.