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NRC clears Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor design; environmental groups balk

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission report cleared the AP1000 reactor that Progress Energy plans to use for its new plant, but environmentalists want further public review before the agency gives the unit final approval.

The NRC announced this week that the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor passed safety evaluations and was set for the agency's staff to certify the unit's design so utilities can move forward with their projects.

Progress Energy proposes to use the AP1000 for the two nuclear reactors it plans to build in Levy County over the next decade.

"We issued the safety evaluation report for the AP1000," said Roger Hannah, an NRC spokesman. "There were no technical reasons to preclude design certification."

On Thursday, 26 public interest and environmental groups filed challenges to the NRC safety evaluation report. The groups contend there needs to be formal environmental impact statements, based on the NRC's findings regarding health and safety issues that resulted from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown.

"Significant regulatory changes are needed to ensure that existing or new nuclear reactors do not pose unacceptable safety and environmental risks to the public," said Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear expert who supported the groups' filings. "In light of the disastrous and ongoing events at Fukushima, it is clear that the issues of public safety … are exceptionally grave."

Hannah said the NRC staff had not seen the filing from the groups and could not comment.

If the NRC considers the environmentalists' challenges, it could further delay the Levy project, which has been delayed twice already.

Progress Energy, which says it plans to open the Levy plant in 2021, is awaiting approval of its operating license.

The NRC is expected to make a decision in late 2012 or early 2013.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

NRC clears Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor design; environmental groups balk 08/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 7:00am]
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