NRC Approves Amended ABWR Design for New Nuclear Plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission formally approved GE-Hitachi’s amended Advanced Boiling Water Reactor design Monday, making it the first Generation III reactor to meet the agency’s new standards for aircraft impact resistance.

GE-Hitachi's ABWR design. Source: FennovoimaDeveloped by the now-merged nuclear divisions of General Electric and Hitachi, as well as Toshiba, the 1350-to-1460-megawatt-electric ABWR design was first certified by the NRC in 1997 and has been under consideration for two new reactors at the South Texas Project near Houston. Although NRG Energy, a key investor in that project, pulled out of the venture, its partner Toshiba continued to seek approval of a design change to bring the ABWR in line with enhanced safety requirements put in place after 9/11.

According to an NRC release Monday, “The ABWR design has appropriately accounted for aircraft impact effects. This means that following such an impact, only minimal operator actions would be necessary to meet two conditions: a) the reactor core remains cooled or the containment remains intact; and b) spent nuclear fuel cooling or spent fuel pool integrity is maintained.”

ABWRs have operated in Japan since the mid-1990s, and several units are under construction in that country and Taiwan. The design builds on the BWR technology GE has developed for decades. According to a fact sheet from the company that proposed the Texas reactors, it has a shorter construction time of 39 months. Construction costs are reduced, also, by assembly of the design’s 200 modules. It also cuts the number of reactor vessel welds by 30 percent and features a more compact reactor building.

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