Licenses for New U.S. Reactors Nearing Final Reviews
• Licensing for new U.S. reactors is proceeding according to schedule, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in letters to electric utilities in Georgia and South Carolina. The agency expects to issue a final safety report this month on Georgia Power’s two advanced reactors to be built at the Vogtle plant in Burke County, Ga. It could approve a construction and operating license before the end of this year. The NRC told South Carolina Electric & Gas that the utility’s application to build two reactors near Jenkinsville, S.C., is complete and that a final safety review should be finished by September. The agency then could approve a construction and operating license for the facility by January.
• The Japanese government announced it would replace three top officials who have been involved in handling the accident at Fukushima: Nobuaki Terasaka, the head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency; Kazuo Matsunaga, vice minister of Economy, Trade and Industry; and Tetsuhiro Hosono, director general of the National Resources and Energy Agency.
• TEPCO announced it will shut down reactor 1 of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear energy facility this weekend for a two-month inspection period. The shutdown leaves 15 of Japan’s 54 reactors producing electricity and only three of TEPCO’s 17 reactors.
• The United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority announced it would close its Sellafield MOX plant “at the earliest practical opportunity,” citing continuing uncertainties with the 10 Japanese utilities with which it has contracts to supply mixed oxide nuclear fuel. The government-owned NDA said it made the decision to shield British taxpayers from the uncertainty of its Japanese business.
• The Japanese government said it would lower the annual radiation dose limit for schoolchildren as early as this month, in time for the end of the summer vacation period. It had earlier set an external dose limit of 2 rem per year for children involved in outdoor activities, but parents and teachers protested that level was too high.
• Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s call for gradually weaning Japan off its dependence on nuclear power has raised questions that could severely impact the country’s economy, according to an analysis by Reuters. “The issue is the uncertainty over policy,” said Naohiko Baba, chief Japan economist at Goldman Sachs. “Because of an unclear direction about nuclear power plants, companies can’t make their investment plans while utilities can’t make a decisive shift to other power sources from nuclear power.” Japan is already getting an indication of the potential cost to the country of a long-term shift away from nuclear power. If Japan’s 54 reactors went offline by May 2012, the nation would face a 10 percent power shortage next summer and electricity costs would spike up 20 percent. The drag on economic growth from higher energy costs caused by greater use of costly imported fuels while nuclear electricity output dwindles would be substantial, economists say.
• The Financial Times noted that Japanese industrial giants Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries are considering a merger for their infrastructure businesses.