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Battle of the Big Nukes

Why the Tennessee Valley Authority and Duke Energy chose Westinghouse’s nuclear power-plant design over GE’s.

Fortnightly Magazine - May 2007

the reactor. All of which is technically feasible and has been demonstrated in other applications on a smaller scale, but nothing had been done to the size and scale of that particular reactor design.

“We thought that would introduce some new and unusual discoveries as that path went forward. The other thing was that particular design was further behind in the licensing process than the Westinghouse AP 1000.”

Bailey explains that the AP1000 already had design certification from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and that licensing risk is a big risk that everybody is worried about for new plants. “Being further down the path with all those reviews already being completed—the certainty of getting through that process was higher with the AP1000 design,” he said.

Furthermore, Westinghouse, he says, had simplified the safety systems for the plant to rely on passive features like gravity draining from the roof of the containment. “That reduces the cost and makes the plant simpler, more reliable in principle, and as a result you meet all of the safety requirements with margin and without having multiple active safety systems to provide those functions.”

Duke Energy’s Turner says his company chose the AP1000 not only for being the best reactor design, but the nuke also presented knowledge transfer opportunities because the utility operated Westinghouse technology at both its McGuire station and Catawba station.

“I think that you have the opportunity for more passive operating mode than you had in earlier designs,” Turner says. “It [uses] fewer pumps, valves, cable and piping. There have also been improvements in terms of how easy it is to operate and how costly it is to maintain. My sense is that because of what happened the last time with a lot of nuclear units that were begun—and some never completed—the cost increases that happened during the process. I think everyone’s sensitivity is heightened now to that issue.”