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Article posted on 08/31/10
Author: Tom Eichmann

Nuclear Industry Looking to Cookie
Cutter Designs for Expansion

Atlanta-based Southern Co. a power utilities company is trending today because they are petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build the first nuclear reactor power plant since 1978. AP reports this is a unique approach as the design phase of custom build reactors can cost in the neighborhood of $100's million, and Southern Co. has picked a generic design of Westinghouse Electric Co.'s AP1000 reactor.

Decades ago, utility companies had much more freedom in designing a custom reactor or make changes to an existing one. "It's much more expensive because you have to pay for the design of each plant that's hundreds of millions of dollars," said Ed Cummins, a Westinghouse vice president who oversees new plant technologies. "If you have a standard plant, you do that once."

Engineers want not just reactors based off the same design but a more uniform method of building them. Instead of assembling the power plant piece by piece, the AP1000 would be assembled by hoisting more than 300 prefabricated blocks into place. Some are as small as a desk, others as big as a six-story building. Westinghouse says the technique is supposed to allow for better and quicker assembly.

Construction has yet to begin. The NRC must first certify the reactor design as safe. Because of rules adopted after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Westinghouse needed to engineer a concrete-and-steel shield building so the reactor would be protected from the impact of a large airliner. The NRC is still determining whether that shield meets its requirements. A final decision on the entire reactor is not expected until September 2011.

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