The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday granted permission for DTE Energy in Michigan to add another nuclear reactor to the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station in the Frenchtown Charter Township in Michigan on the shores of Lake Erie.
The facility, operated by DTE Energy Electric Company, currently has one reactor out of two built that is in operation. Unit 2 is a 1,150 MWe General Electric boiling water reactor that began operation in 1988. The first reactor on the site, Unit 1, is a 69 MWe prototype fast breeder reactor that suffered a partial meltdown of two of 92 fuel assemblies in 1966 after three years and one month of operation.
Fermi 1 was shut down in 1972.
DTE says it currently has no plans to build Fermi 3, but DTE Energy President Steven Kurmas said the new license gives the company a “comprehensive slate of options to plan for Michigan's energy future.”
"The potential of additional nuclear energy gives us the option of reliable, base-load, generation that does not emit greenhouse gases,” Kurmas said in a statement.
Even getting this far represents considerable time, effort and expense. The decision by the NRC caps a comprehensive, six-year process that examined the technical, safety and environmental aspects of the potential unit. DTE Energy has referenced the GE Hitachi ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor) as the unit that would be built on the site. The ESBWR is an advanced design that the NRC certified in November 2014.
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), in turn, congratulated DTE Energy on the receipt of its Fermi 3 license for construction and operation of a new reactor. “We congratulate DTE Energy on obtaining this license which gives the company the option to add more clean, baseload nuclear power to its diverse energy mix,” said Caroline Reda, president and chief executive officer of GEH.
In addition to DTE Energy, Dominion Virginia Power also selected ESBWR technology for its North Anna Unit 3 Nuclear Power Plant project. That project is expected to be licensed next year.
GEH claims the ESBWR is the world’s safest approved nuclear reactor design, based on core damage frequency. The reactor can cool itself for more than seven days with no on-site or off-site AC power or operator action, uses approximately 25 percent fewer pumps and mechanical drives than reactors with active safety systems and offers the lowest projected operating, maintenance and staffing costs in the nuclear industry on a per-kilowatt basis, GEH said.
In addition to these domestic projects, NRC certification of the reactor’s design has paved the way for the ESBWR to be built in other locations around the globe. Key global commercial projects include: Brazil, India, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden, Vietnam and others.
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Some much needed good news, even if it is years before they build it.