August 2001 IBEW Journal
Streamlined Designs Promise Lower Cost, Improved Safety For Reactors
Advanced designs for even safer and more economical nuclear reactors have been completed, approved and are ready to build, according to industry officials. Three new nuclear designs that represent evolutionary improvements over existing reactors have been approved by the [NRC] in recent years, reported The Wall Street Journal May 2.
The NRC has streamlined consideration of new nuclear plant projects, creating separate reviews for plant designs and sites, The Washington Post reported on April 23. Several plant designs have been preapproved and if a generator adopts one of these designs, it does not have to cross that regulatory hurdle again. IBEW International Representative Will Paul noted that General Electric, Westinghouse and ABB have advanced designs that have been preapproved and certified by the NRC.
A completely different design receiving widespread attention is the pebble-bed modular reactor, which is still in the test stage. The pebble-bed design, which is helium-cooled, operates at lower temperatures than existing plants and therefore is less susceptible to failure if its cooling system is crippled. Pebble-bed reactors would be one-tenth the size of nuclear plants recently built in other countries and also less costly. Exelon Corporation has invested in a pebble-bed test project in South Africa. If [Exelon] decides to help fund a working model in South Africa, it will probably propose construction of one in this country as well, reported the The Wall Street Journal.
If a younger generation of nuclear plants does make an appearance, it will probably be as additions to existing nuclear sites, according to The Wall Street Journal. Thats because the sites have already weathered the NRCs rigorous site review, and the hardwaresubstations and high voltage transmission linesneeded to get the power away from the plant and to users is already in place. Most U.S. nuclear plant sites were designed to host four to six reactors, and most operate only two or three.