The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will experience only “slight delays” in processing industry requests to “uprate” or increase power generation at existing nuclear power plants, NRC’s Executive Director of Operations William Borchardt said March 13.
Borchardt used an audience question-and-answer session at NRC’s annual Regulatory Information Conference in Rockville, Md., to try and allay industry concern about a slowdown in uprate actions. The NRC has approved dozens of power plant uprates in recent years.
A question from the audience noted that uprates, rather than new plant approvals, have accounted for most U.S. nuclear growth over recent years.
Fiscal constraints in the upcoming budget year will mean that power uprate proposals will take a little longer than normal to get processed, Borchardt said. “We are not stopping the reviews by any stretch of the imagination,” the NRC director said.
Embattled NRC chairman seeks to look ahead
Prior to Borchardt’s presentation, NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko lauded the NRC staff for keeping their focus on the safety of existing U.S. nuclear plants during a tumultuous year in which the nuclear agency both assisted the Japanese government with the Fukushima disaster and tackled an array of less serious natural disasters that affected nuclear reactors in the United States.
The past year has not been an easy one for Jaczko. The NRC chairman was the subject of a government report critical of his management of NRC. Jaczko has faced not only calls for his resignation from some Republican congressmen, but rare public criticism from his fellow NRC commissioners, including fellow Democrats on the panel.
During his presentation to the 3,000-person forum, Jaczko took pains to heap praise on the other four commissioners: Kristine Svinicki, George Apostolakis, William Magwood IV, and William Ostendorff.
“While we may have had disagreements on the issues, we worked together … and ultimately did what was right for nuclear safety,” Jaczko said. The commission issued roughly 100 significant decisions and regulatory orders in 2011, Jaczko said.
During early 2012, Jaczko was the only one of the five commissioners to vote against two new nuclear units in Georgia being developed by a group led by a Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) subsidiary.
The Vogtle expansion marked the first new nuclear plant license in the United States in about 30 years.
The chairman said the NRC is “nearing a decision” on the combined construction and operating license for two new units at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina, but declined to elaborate further. The Summer expansion is led by a SCANA (NYSE: SCG) subsidiary.