Atomic Show #306 – Dr. Rita Baranwal, Westinghouse AP300
Westinghouse, one of the world’s first nuclear power plant vendors, recently announced a new small modular reactor (SMR) design called the AP300. It is described as a simplified version of the AP1000, four of which are currently operating in China and two of which are in the final stages of operational testing in Georgia, United States. Six additional AP1000s are under construction.
In a May 4, 2023 press release, Westinghouse summarized the AP300 as follows:
Westinghouse Electric Company today launched its newest nuclear technology, the AP300™ small modular reactor (SMR), a 300-MWe single-loop pressurized water reactor. The AP300 SMR design is scaled from the advanced, proven AP1000® reactor and is the only SMR truly based on an Nth-of-a-kind operating plant.
The AP300 SMR is an ultra-compact, modular-constructed unit that leverages the innovation and operational knowledge of the global AP1000 fleet. It will utilize identical AP1000 technology, to include major equipment, structural components, passive safety, proven fuel, and I&C systems. The AP300 will bring to bear a mature supply chain, constructability lessons learned, fast load-follow capabilities and proven O&M procedures and best practices from 18 reactor years of safe AP1000 operations.Westinghouse Unveils Game-Changing AP300™ Small Modular Reactor for Mid-Sized Nuclear Technology
In a Nuclear Engineering International article Westinghouse President & CEO Patrick Fragman expanded on the press release statement.
It is using the DNA of the AP1000 in terms of technology.” It “has unique advantages in terms of robustness of the safety case, simplicity of the design, with huge implications in terms of costs and time to construct and obviously an ease of deployment because, with the AP1000 being already deployed, the AP300 SMR will leverage the existing supply chain, the existing design, the existing licensing pedigree”. Fragman described it as “no more and no less than an AP1000 with one loop instead of two loops”. This means it is reusing a majority of components, systems, equipment. “The fuel is identical, the constructability lessons are identical,” he said.Westinghouse launches AP300 small modular reactor
That description sounded exciting and intriguing. Though the advertised power capacity would be approximately one quarter of the power output of the AP1000, it seemed that the plant would be an easier-to-construct version that could sail through licensing and require a modest detailed engineering effort. It would be a design that was familiar to those who had already completed one or more AP1000 units.
There was a fair amount of discussion among engineers and other nuclear advocates on Twitter about the plant’s equipment choices, its status as an SMR and the announced timeline for design certification and operational deployment.
The Westinghouse press release also informed the world that Dr. Rita Baranwal, a former Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Energy, would lead the development of the AP300 as the Senior Vice President of Westinghouse’s Energy Systems business unit.
Rita and I have known each other for a long time, having often attended the same advanced reactor conferences and American Nuclear Society meetings. I invited her to the Atomic Show to tell us more about the AP300, Westinghouse’s plan to certify the design and the expected timeline for deployment. We also discussed general customer interest, though the company is not yet ready to name names.
As she explained, the term “identical AP1000 technology” means something different from what I assumed. It does not mean interchangeable parts in the tradition of mass manufacturing of significantly different automobile models with exactly the same engine and chassis. It means equipment with identical design concepts that is redesigned and retooled with the goal of optimized cost and performance at new operating parameters. Changing a design and the tooling used to manufacture that design is not always a smooth process.
This decision helps to explain Westinghouse’s recently announced pre-application regulatory engagement plan, which establishes a design certification goal date of 2027 and a full construction and operating license by the end of the decade. Given the heritage of a design certification for the AP600 and 18 revisions to the certified AP1000, it was surprising to learn that Westinghouse planned to invest a significant period of time in a pre-application engagement with the NRC. Usually those engagements are designed to familiarize the regulator with designs using new fuels, new coolants and new safety cases.
Under current plans, the first AP300 will be up and running by the end of 2033, approximately a decade from now. That timeline is, dependent on Westinghouse landing a sufficient number of customers to justify the costs of establishing production capabilities for the newly designed plant and the unique equipment it will require.
As is often the case, Dan Yurman at Neutron Bytes published a comprehensive article about the AP300 that provides some of the same information I learned from talking with Dr. Barnawal.
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PS – During our discussion, I asked Dr. Baranwal to compare the safety-related footprint of the AP300 (0.4 acres) to that of the AP1000 (0.75 acres). (She did not have the numbers at her fingertips, so her team provided them immediately after the call was over.)
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I am not surprised that Westinghouse is comfortable with NRC regulations. It stops their competitors cold.
@David – if you had made that comment on a more typical social media site, I would have clicked the “like” button.
Established players in almost every regulated industry view their regulatory relationships as a competitive advantage.
Business schools talk about raising the barriers to entry. Venture capitalists like companies with “moats.” So do value investors like Warren Buffet.
Yes, notice that with a few minor changes to the design they expect to need 10 MORE YEARS to have one built. Money money money sang ABBA. Why, expensive Nuclear is NO Problem! It means we have a bigger profit margin. Sorry for the sarcasm but honestly they deserve it. Not Dr. Rita Baranwal personally, but the company that is doing their best to keep all competition away from “their market” while caring NOTHING for the poor of the world who need a vast amount of power. Nope, best to keep Nuclear fancy, expensive and only available as a Calvin Kline option, while driving a Model S, with a Land Rover in reserve for snow, and pulling the lake boat. It should NEVER NEVER be used for the hoi polloi – coal is fine for them. Sort of reminds me of Bob A from some years ago, except much more polite.
I must admit to be rather shocked by how much NRC engagement Westinghouse believes they need here, but I suppose they knew the NRC best of any US nuclear provider. Still, that is another disappointing reality of the NRC.
Also can anyone point me to the other six AP1000s under construction? I can’t find any mention of this unless Westinghouse is counting the CAP1000 as an AP1000.
Good picture – Looks like the people at the Circle Bar W Ranch hired an architect. I think I wasn’t the only one impressed by Oklo’s representation of it’s reactor offering. It almost looks like they wrapped up the ugly concrete cylindrical reactor with ribbons containing surrounding walkways. Will it look like this if built? I think it will be the old concrete building look.
So the original AP-600 that was ballooned to the AP-1000 is now down to AP-300. I guess nobody remembers the AP-600.
I didn’t hear improved maintenance as being touted. Will these require refueling every two years? In this age of planned obsolescence of everything, building a product that can easily be maintained, modified and repaired is deviating from the norm.
It appears to be similar to the Westinghouse PWRs sold for many years. There are some real advantages to not re-inventing the wheel. If it works, don’t fix it. It appears to be a very difficult job selling new models of nuclear reactors to people. They aren’t cell phones.
Gerritt Brahhaus asks about the six AP-1000 units under construction. Wiki says:
“Six AP1000s are currently in operation or under construction. Four are located at two sites in China, two at Sanmen Nuclear Power Station and two at Haiyang Nuclear Power Plant. Two are under construction at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in the US. As of 2019, all four Chinese reactors were completed and connected to the grid. ”
Small is great, but Light water reactors such as the AP reactors are too thermally inefficient, fuel inefficient and structurally complex to be economical. Sure they will work, but the cost is enormous. The country needs technologically more efficient Nuclear power generation in order to raise the standard of living for the people of this country. Nuclear Power reactors need to be simple and safe to reduce regulatory requirements. Operation at atmospheric pressure with fission products chemically bound to the coolant to reduce radiological releases and with operating temperatures high enough to achieve better than 45% thermal efficiency would be an excellent start. Molten Salt Reactors can achieve these goals easily. It is time to stop throwing Dollars down the proverbial rat hole and take advantage of the technology brought to us 60 years ago by Dr. Alvin Weinberg!
Economies of scale is a false premise with current Nuclear technology. Molten Salt reactors can create diseconomies of scale making small plants economical and safe enough to be located close to the end user.
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the microreactor space. Its incredibly frustrating to see so many companies coming out with new LWR designs at the expense of Gen IV efforts. Frankly, not one single penny of DOE funds should go to the continued development of these obscenely wasteful and inefficient dinosaurs.
In previous simplifications, Westinghouse has reduced the staffing requirements to 400 pax per AP 1000 in a one-unit plant. At the current rate that AP 1000’s are being built, that would not strain the training of enough staff. However the AP 300 design is candidate for the mass rollout of SMRs (hoped for by pro-nuclear climate activists), so could the relevant staff be trained quickly enough?
A mass rollout may need simplification as far as near-autonomous operation, where the more highly trained staff would attend on a fly-in, fly-out basis, and urgent guidance be given over the phone.
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600, which is a scaled down version of a large PWR, which is a scaled up version of a smaller PWR, which is a scaled up version of a submarine PWR from 70 years ago.
70 years in the merry-go-round. Achieving absolutely nothing and going absolutely nowhere. Except for selling the cutlery to the Chinese and then going bankrupt. Funny how much new stuff this supposedly bankrupt company is engaged in.
Number of loops isn’t even relevant, the cost and schedule problems with Vogtle builds had nothing to do with the number of loops. Once again Westinghouse is not addressing any of the real problems and just goes into the meat grinder one more round.
Westinghouse is a joke. This is a company that builds PWRs, they designed a simplified version and they couldn’t do it, went bankrupt in the process. How come anyone would get in bed with them? Do they have silver tongues? Or do they drug their would be customers? Or do people involved simply not care since cost overruns and delays can always be explained withs some excuse and costs can be flung on the ratepayers so who cares. They get to keep their jobs and all the bloat is just more feathers in their caps. Westinghouse doesn’t care.
Certainly the regulator doesn’t care either, they get paid by the hour. More delays is more money. Yet they are de facto in charge of the project, and are not even responsible in the event of a nuclear accident, creating a perverse incentive for incompetence and delays. The contractors don’t care, ditto reasons. More rework and more money. The construction crew doesn’t care, more delays they still get paid. Morale on the construction site is flushed in the toilet and productivity drops to almost nothing. People stand around and collect their paycheck, who cares. With financial incentives directly opposing meeting cost and schedule targets, boosted by a “safety first” culture (meaning cost and schedule and stone dead last) is a virtual guarantee that projects won’t be built on time or budget, or even finished at all. As if that isn’t bad enough there then is the “we’re nuclear. We’re special” attitude poured over all this like some acidic gravy. Constantly reinventing the wheel, instead of using standard components and construction processes proven in so many other fields of engineering and construction, the nuclear industry constantly develops and reinvents their own codes, standards, qualification procedures, construction techniques, etc. With a focus on paperwork rather than real quality on the ground. It is a virtual guarantee for high cost, delayed schedules, and ironically very frequently low quality.
These are some of the very real organization, managerial and cultural problems the nuclear industry in almost all Western countries faces. That’s where the change is required. Changing the design of the reactor is not helping at all if the main problems are not addressed.
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