Efforts to increase South Carolina's home-generated power supply took another step forward over the holiday season with the approval of the reactor design by the Nuclear Regulatory Commssion just before the holidays. The new AP1000 reactor design by Westinghouse Electric, is slated to be used in several new nuclear plants being built in both Carolinas, Florida and Georgia, including the V.C. Summer plant expansion, which is being developed jointly by SCE&G and Santee-Cooper in Fairfield County.
While a number of efforts have been made to try to stop construction of the Fairfield County SCE&G facility, none have been successful. While the AP1000 design has been approved, the South Carolina plant still has a number of regulatory hurdles before it can go into operation several years from now.
The Summer plant is needed by both power companies to keep up with growing demand. Santee-Cooper has been seeking to expand it's generation capacity for several years, having abandoned plans to build a coal-fired plant in Florence County and faced with prospects of having to close at least two currently-operating coal plants due to new federal regulations. SCE&G has not announced if it will have to shut any of its coal-fired plants.
The new AP1000 plant design was praised for its safety, having endured rigorous testing to ensure its survivability in extreme conditions, a concern heightened following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami:
NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said the newly approved design would ensure safety through simplified, passive security functions and other features. He said plants using the design could withstand damage from an airplane crash without significant release of radioactive materials — an issue that gained attention after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The new design features include the construction of a large water tank on top of the concrete-and-steel shielding building containing the reactor. In case of an accident, water would be released to flow down and cool the steel container that holds the reactor, allowing gravity to do what the pumps at Fukushima failed to do when the generators were knocked out by the tsunami wave.