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US NRC approves new nuclear unit for Dominion's North Anna plant in Virginia

Washington — Commissioners of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Wednesday to authorize NRC staff to issue a combined construction permit-operating license to Dominion Virginia Power to build a third power reactor at its North Anna plant in Mineral, Virginia.

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NRC staff completed its environmental review of the application in February 2010 and issued its safety evaluation report in January, finding that no environmental or safety issues preclude issuance of the COL.

The commission said in a memorandum and order issued Wednesday after its vote that NRC staff's safety and environmental reviews met regulatory requirements. The commission authorized the director of the agency's Office of New Reactors to issue the COL.

That office "expects to issue the license in the next couple of days, as the review process is now complete," NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Wednesday in an email.

NRC said in a statement Wednesday that the license contains conditions, including requirements to implement measures to mitigate severe accidents and enhance emergency preparedness that the agency mandated in response to the March 2011 Fukushima I accident in Japan.

Dominion applied to NRC in November 2007 for a COL for North Anna-3, which would be a 1,470-MW GE Hitachi Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor.

The company said in a statement January 19, when NRC issued its safety evaluation, that Dominion "will make a decision on whether to build Unit 3 after the COL has been issued, but that decision may not coincide with the issuance of the license."

Dominion "will continue to evaluate developments over the coming months as we determine next steps related to timing of North Anna-3," the company's president and CEO, Thomas Farrell, said Wednesday in a statement. Farrell did not provide details or a schedule for a decision on whether to build North Anna-3.

The company said in April 2016 that if the project proceeds, the earliest possible in service date for North Anna-3 is September 2028.

Dominion has not disclosed its estimate of the cost of building North Anna-3, but the company said July 2016 an estimate submitted to Virginia state regulators by an economic consultant that it would cost roughly $19.3 billion, including financing costs, to license and build the unit was not "unreasonable."

An NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board reviewed several challenges to the application submitted by anti-nuclear and environmental groups. The challenges addressed a wide range of issues, including the ability of the reactor to withstand severe seismic events and the safety of long-term storage of spent fuel at North Anna. Dominion and NRC staff responded to the challenges, each of which were eventually dismissed by the board, which concluded its proceeding in 2015.

Dominion currently operates North Anna-1 and -2 at the plant. The Westinghouse-designed pressurized water reactors have combined capacity of 1,992 MW.

NRC issued operating licenses for Unit 1 in April 1978 and Unit 2 in August 1980. North Anna-1 began commercial operation in June 1978, followed by North Anna-2 in December 1980.

The reactors' initial 40-year operating licenses were renewed for 20 years in March 2003. The license for North Anna-1 expires in April 2038, while the license for North Anna-2 expires in August 2040.

--Steven Dolley,

--Edited by Valarie Jackson,