US nuclear projects face construction challenges: industry
Washington (Platts)--27 Aug 2013 549 pm EDT/2149 GMT
New US nuclear reactor construction has encountered obstacles because of
a new licensing process and the lack of experience of some suppliers,
especially of commodity goods, utility representatives told the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission during a briefing Tuesday.
Improvements on quality assurance and compliance with licensing
requirements are being made, the executives said.
Key components worldwide have been made successfully and according to
nuclear quality requirements, said Joseph Miller, executive vice president
for nuclear development at Georgia Power. Georgia Power, with three partners,
is building two new 1,100-MW nuclear units at its existing Vogtle generating
With some components -- especially those standardized "commodity" items
like reinforcing bar, which is used in non-nuclear applications as well --
the additional nuclear quality requirements were a problem for some
manufacturers, he said. "The situation improves every day," Miller said.
There are more quality checks for the larger components than there are
for commodities, where taking samples during production is the typical
approach to quality oversight, said Jeff Archie, chief nuclear officer for
South Carolina Electric & Gas. SCE&G, with partner Santee Cooper, is building
two new units of the same design at the site of an existing reactor.
The lack of nuclear plant construction in the US during the past several
decades has made it more difficult to locate suppliers who have the strict
quality assurance programs that NRC requires, said Jeffrey Lyash, president of
the power plant business unit for Chicago Bridge & Iron. CB&I, with reactor
vendor Westinghouse, is the contractor for SCE&G's Summer and Georgia Power's
Vogtle nuclear plant expansion projects.
"The suppliers really struggled understanding the exact nature of what
we happened, how to stand up [nuclear quality assurance] programs ... getting
suppliers up the learning curve on what was expected in terms of quality and
how that process had to work was quite difficult," Lyash said.
Instead of being able to choose from a variety of qualified vendors,
CB&I and Westinghouse had to place their own employees in a position to
monitor supplier compliance, he said.
"The supply chain has come quite a long way" overall, Lyash said. Some
companies have successfully "resurrected" nuclear-grade quality assurance
programs that had lapsed when nuclear projects waned in the 1980s, he said.
But the expected volume of nuclear plant work over the coming years
is not sufficient to attract large numbers of suppliers to restore such
programs, which require a significant investment.
The development of final construction drawings that meet the
requirements of the design NRC certified is one of the chief areas where
licensing problems have emerged, Miller said.
While licensees and NRC have worked well together to handle changes in
the construction plans that have developed, there are opportunities to
improve the way in which such changes are processed, Miller said. Licensees
and the agency must develop ways to "minimize the resources expended on minor
deviations from the certified design that have little or no safety
significance," Miller said.
NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis said meeting the requirements of the
NRC-certified reactor design is absolute and not dependent on safety
SCE&G's Archie said the licensees understand that compliance with the
approved design is required.
NRC has stepped up inspections of suppliers to the US nuclear projects
as they have proceeded, both in the US and internationally, said Laura Dudes,
director of the division of construction inspection at the agency. Inspectors
have identified problems with construction methods and drawings that have
resulted in modifications by the utilities, said Joel Munday, director of
NRC's division of construction projects for the southeast region.
--William Freebairn, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Valarie Jackson, email@example.com