The traffic light warning system used by the nuclear Regulators (ONR and Environment Agency) in their latest quarterly assessment update on the Westinghouse AP1000 reactors proposed for Moorside will make uncomfortable reading for both Westinghouse and NuGen. Covering the period November 2015 to January 2016, the update signals inevitable delays to securing approval for the reactor design under the UK’s Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process. As a vital ingredient of NuGen’s current plans to make its final investment decision on Moorside in 2018, GDA approval must be secured by January 2017. As the Regulators put it ‘our concern is that the current [GDA] programme has less than a year to completion but in some areas the majority of the work is yet to be delivered. This is very acute in some areas and we question whether the baseline programme remains credible’.
The red lights flagged up by the Regulators relate not only to the major GDA components of the reactor’s Structural Integrity (SI) and Mechanical Engineering (ME) but also to the Quality of Submissions. For the SI ad ME issues, a red light indicates that delays are highly unlikely to be recoverable – a status justified by the Regulators’ concerns that, for some issues, ‘there remains significant technical and closure programme risks associated with completion of the work’. For the Quality of Submissions category, the red lights signify that the Westinghouse submissions ‘are significantly below expectations in terms of scope and/or quality’. In the Regulators’ view, a combination of these unresolved issues and any inevitable GDA slippage caused by them, will affect regulatory confidence in the subsequent site development programme.
In response to the Regulators’ update, Westinghouse (once owned by BNFL and now by NuGens’s major investor Toshiba) said it was confident that its plans remained on track and that it hoped to complete the GDA by March 2017. Whether or not it sounds credible to the Regulators, the date reveals a significant measure of mission-creep from the Westinghouse projection made just last year that full GDA approval was expected in mid-2016 – a slippage by its own admission of some nine months.
The potential for a delay in securing timely GDA approval was highlighted as just one of many pre-construction hurdles to be cleared by NuGen in CORE’s report last year on Moorside which projected that NuGen’s patently optimistic claim to have three AP1000 reactors constructed and in operation by 2026 was simply not credible. Apart from the GDA process, other pre-construction hurdles with the potential to derail NuGen’s timetable include gaining approval for a new National Grid system (also due in 2017) and securing all the necessary planning permissions.
Even without the GDA slippage – and NuGen’s application to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for offshore drilling being put ‘on hold’, the bigger picture for Moorside’s build-time looks bleak indeed. For at the only four twin-reactor stations currently under construction, two in the US and two in China, build-time for the AP1000 reactors is taking over seven years – with criticism levelled at Westinghouse as having ‘oversold the system, oversold the technology and promised more than they could really deliver’. Despite this chronic overseas experience, NuGen and West Cumbria’s nuclear-compliant media continue to peddle the myth that, with a construction start in 2020, Moorside’s triple reactors will all be producing electricity by 2026.