Tuesday, March 28, 2006

North Anna ESP update

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to hear a presentation by Gene Grecheck of Dominion. He discussed progress on the North Anna early site permit (ESP) process. That’s a subject that dates back to some of the earliest days of this blog. Since the presentation ran for a full hour, I won’t try to repeat it here, but a couple of points seemed to be of particularly broad interest.

The first point was about how we in the industry continue to wait impatiently for a new plant order. On a personal note, I would like to observe that it’s funny how our perspectives change. Five years ago, we were thrilled when anyone would say "nuclear" in a context that was not pejorative. One year ago, we were thrilled to hear that Duke was going to pursue a construction and operating license. Now, we really want to hear about a contract to build a new plant. In a few years, even that won’t satisfy us, and we will want to hear about concrete pours.

But I digress. Gene did not discuss changes in perspective, but he did mention that some nuclear engineering professors had asked him why new plant orders were so slow in coming. Students of licensing will know the answer. The new licensing process (10 CFR 52) has numerous highly visible steps that can precede the actual order. In the old process (10 CFR 50), the early steps were not nearly so visible. (See slides 12-14 of this PowerPoint presentation on the NEI Web site for a visual comparison of the old and new processes.) Utilities, Gene explained, are taking the process one step at a time, as well they should.

The second point is that the step-by-step licensing process worked for Dominion. Those familiar with the North Anna ESP will know that cooling water has long been a bone of contention. Gene cleared up the history of that issue for me. Lake Anna was originally designed for four 800-MW (electric) units. After the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction permit, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, which gave the states the authority to regulate water use. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality classifies evaporative cooling as consumptive water use, and it saw an additional reactor (with evaporative cooling) as imposing an excessive demand on the Pamunkey River. Dominion accordingly modified its ESP application so that a new reactor would use a wet/dry cooling system, even though adding a third reactor at North Anna would not impose a water demand that exceeds what the NRC had approved. The ESP process identified a problem (water supply) and required that it be solved at an early date. Although there was some schedule slippage, there was substantial benefit in that Dominion was able to solve the problem without costly backfits.

1 comment:

Rod Adams said...

It is generally cheaper to correct problems as early as possible. This explanation makes sense to me.

It also shows how the licensing process will differ from place to place, since some sites have either larger or smaller cooling water issues.

That is one reason why we have designed a plant that can operate effectively using air as the cooling medium. Some sites that can use a reliable power source have little to no water available.

As far as we know, there is not yet any regulation that prevents us from heating air and discharging that to the environment.

Rod Adams, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.