April: InfrastructureNRG, Toshiba to promote ABWRs

Published 3 April 2008

There are serious questions about the security of Boiling-Water Reactor (BWR) design and construction, questions which Advanced Boiling-Water Reactor (ABWR) design was supposed to answer; not everyone is convinced; NRG Energy, Toshiba to promote and build ABWRs in the United States

Of the 110 active nuclear power reactors in the United States, thirty-five are boiling-water reactors (BWR). It would not be an exaggeration ot say that by their very design — or rather, they way these reactors are built in the United States, compared to the way they are built in France and Switzerland — BWR reactors offer attrative targets of opportunity for terrorists. On a few occasions we thought we should discuss these design flaws on these pages, but each time decided against it: Such issues should be discussed behind closed door with the proper authorities; it is not the kind of stuff you want to advertise to the wrong people (for pointed, if restrained, criticism of BWRs’ design flaw, see this brief by Paul Gunter of the Nuclear Informatiin and Resource Service [NIRS]). Now, about ten years ago GE has introduced the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor(ABWR) design, which, the company says, “is a direct cycle Light Water Reactor that reflects 50 years of continued evolution from GEH’s initial BWR concept.” Note the phrase “continued evolution from GEH’s initial BWR concept”: The question we should all ask is: What about those pre-evolution BWRs still in operation? Perhaps soon we will write in greater detail about the security risks of BWRs, but for now we note that Princeton, New Jersey-based power giant NRG Energy has joined forces with Toshiba to accelerate the development of Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) projects in North America. A joint venture between the two — Nuclear Innovation North America — will focus on marketing, siting, developing, financing, and investing in new advanced design nuclear projects across the United States based on the ABWR concept, including the South Texas Project, a two-unit 2,700 MW nuclear plant that NRG is developing with San Antonio, Texas’ CPS Energy.

Toshiba — which will serve as the prime contractor on all the company’s projects — will invest $300 million in the company over the next six years and will receive a 12 percent equity ownership of the company. As the prime contractor of the STP project, Toshiba is currently providing licensing support and leading all engineering and scheduling activities, which ultimately will lead to responsibility for constructing the project. Toshiba is also proceeding with securing the necessary long-lead material for the project, which to date has included securing heavy forgings and a reactor pressure vessel. Toshiba has built two of four ABWR units already commissioned in Japan. Nuclear Innovation North America intends to use the certified design with only a limited number of changes. NRG anticipates that the two units for the South Texas Project will come online in 2015 and 2016.