Nuclear critics in this state and elsewhere have once again asked federal nuclear regulators to halt the approval process for a next-generation reactor design favored by Duke Energy, Progress Energy and other Southern electric utilities.
If the petition were to succeed, it would severely set back this nation's nuclear revival by disqualifying the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design that has shown greatest promise to the industry.
Duke and Progress have selected the AP1000 for new reactor construction in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
The critics, including N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, based in Durham, asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to terminate rulemaking on the AP1000, saying the design is fundamentally flawed and unsafe. They say the review process should not begin until the reactor design is completed.
The filing comes a month after NRC officials said Westinghouse needs to resolve issues about the AP1000's ability to withstand severe weather or a jetliner crash.
NC WARN, Friends of the Earth and the AP1000 Oversight Alliance said the Westinghouse design has been dogged for years by problems and delays. The design is now in its 19th revision before the NRC.
Today's filing is similar to one filed last year in which a dozen anti-nuke groups, including NC WARN, asked the NRC to suspend its review of the AP1000.
Westinghouse has repeatedly said the questions are routine and not significant.
The Westinghouse AP1000 design includes an emergency cooling system that can operate without human intervention during a nuclear emergency. Critics say the emergency system is not fail-safe.
The "passive design" is based on giant water tank elevated above the reactor. During a nuclear accident, the tank would release water through gravity to cool the reactor below and prevent it from overheating and releasing radiation.
Heat from the reactor would vaporize the water, sending it back up in the form of steam. The cycle would repeat itself for several days, giving emergency responders time to bring in another source of cooling water.