AP1000 Design for New Vogtle Reactors a Problem for Georgia Power
(APN) ATLANTA – The AP1000 Oversight Group, the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NC WARN), and Friends of the Earth filed a petition November 10, 2011, to require the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to resolve design issues on the Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000 prior to certification.
Proposed new reactors for two sites in the US South rely on the AP1000 design, including at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and VC Sumner in South Carolina.
In Georgia, construction is already going forward under a Limited Work Authorization–funded with Georgia ratepayers’ money in the form of early construction fees on all consumers’ Georgia Power bills–despite the fact that the plant design has not been certified and faces a number of safety concerns, particularly following the Fukushima disaster.
The NRC Commissioners are considering a final vote on the plant design without responding to a long list of problems raised earlier by experts within and outside the industry. NRC is ignoring problems in order to meet the nuclear industry’s AP1000 construction schedule.
Meanwhile, Georgia Power has already increased its cost estimate for the plant, meaning that rates will go up even more than projected. And the company recently said that they may have to push back the completion date from April 2016 to September 2016 as a result of not having received a license yet for the AP1000.
The Oversight Group says federal regulations require correction of the multiple problems during the design certification phase – not after full construction of the AP1000 begins in Georgia and South Carolina.
Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, a Chief Engineer with Fairewinds Associates, has documented seven unreviewed safety concerns involving the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear plant design based on the ongoing Fukushima disaster, which he says require full technical review by the NRC before the plant design can be certified.
Atlanta Progressive News participated in a recent press teleconference with Gundersen and other nuclear experts.
“A significant concern is that the AP1000 containment is designed for 59 pounds of pressure and the accident calculations analysis is for 58.3 pounds of pressure. So the margin is very small or 7/10 pound of pressure between what the containment can withstand and what they believe will be produced after an accident,” Gunderson said.
“Because the AP1000 containment is so close to exceeding its peak post accident design pressure, this is a great risk to the public health and safety,” he said.
“The NRC said that containments never leak but Fukushima showed us that they do leak. What that has to do with the AP1000 design is there are extra heat loads that the NRC assumed will not raise the pressure inside the containment to over its design value. Those extra heat loads relate to something called inadvertent criticality which means the reactor turns its self back on without any human intervention,” he said.
“Fukushima proves that such an inadvertent criticality is possible and with the AP1000 and it would cause the containment structure to burst and leak extensive radiation into the environment,” he said.
“The NRC recognized that the loss of the ultimate heat sink (LoUHS) is a problem in operating reactors. The AP1000 ultimate heat sink is a six million pound tank of water on the roof of the containment unit. After an accident, a valve will open to let the six million pounds of water trickle down like a waterfall and cool the nuclear reactor,” he said.
“Can loss of the ultimate heat sink happen with the AP1000? NRC has assumed that the possibility of that happening is zero but it happened at Fukushima. What can cause that tank to rupture? The NRC has not evaluated the tank for an airplane impact or terrorist attack, even though it is the most prominent and easily targeted site,” he said.
“At Vogtle and VC Summer, there are other nuclear plants, and an explosion like at Fukushima could send shrapnel into the AP1000 tank and drain the water. Losing the cooling tank at the top of the reactor is a major concern,” he said.
“The spent fuel tank on the AP1000 is cooled just like every other reactor in the country. At Fukushima unit 4, the spent fuel tank created so much hydrogen that it blew the building up. Yet the NRC is giving a blank check to the AP 1000 design,” he said.
“It is so much easier to change a drawing on a computer than to modify a design after the plant is constructed. A ten dollar modification on a computer now, can save a ten million dollar modification down the road, if you have to rip out concrete and do it over. This will increase the cost to the ratepayers,” he said.
“Shared sites are a problem because one reactor can impact another. If a huge cloud of debris like at Fukushima, enters the AP1000 air vents it would clog the vents and make it unable to cool the reactor,” he said.
“For over two years there has been a concern about the AP1000 containment design. Fukushima unit 3 exploded with a detonation shock wave and the AP1000 cannot withstand a detonation shock wave. It would shatter the containment building,” he said.
“Two weeks ago we were in contact with an AP1000 whistleblower and according to the whistleblower the turbine building was designed for the AP600 and the AP1000 is forty percent larger. Westinghouse-Toshiba and the people at Plant Vogtle and VC Summer never changed the turbine building to accommodate this larger design. That means things are shoe-horned in and will add operational complexity in the future,” Gundersen said as he concluded his testimony.
John Runkle, attorney for NC WARN and the AP1000 Oversight Group, explained the petition.
“The AP1000 Oversight Group is a coalition of organizations who are concerned about the safety and cost of the of the proposed AP1000 nuclear reactors. Today we are filing a petition with the Nuclear Regulator Commission criticizing the NRC staff for arbitrarily cutting off its review of unanswered safety issues in regard to the AP1000 reactors,” Runkle said.
“Both the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) require the Commission to take a hard look at new information: many safety issues which stem from the Fukushima lessons learned and others from the flawed AP1000 design itself,” Runkle said.
“The NRC policy since 1991 is to resolve safety problems during the certification process and not during construction. Now the NRC seems poised to certify reactor designs that have not been fully reviewed with many safety issues still unresolved,” Runkle said.
Meanwhile, alternative energy sources are becoming less expensive and more prevalent.
The American Wind Energy Association reports that close to 10,000 megawatts (Mw) of new wind power joined the grid in 2009. 10,000mw is roughly the equivalent of one and a half new Vogtle nuclear reactors but without the long wait or the radiation risk or radiation waste.
California has installed one gigawatt of solar power, equaling the power generation capacity of two typical coal-fired power plants, on rooftops across the state, according to a report by the nonprofit Environment California.
In North Carolina solar electricity has become cheaper than electricity from nuclear plants, reported in Solar and Nuclear Costs prepared by NC WARN.
“It will be a shame if Southern Company misses out on the green energy revolution because it is blinded by promises of easy money to pursue antiquated nuclear energy,” Glenn Carroll, Coordinator of Nuclear Watch South, said.