Atomic Show #306 – Dr. Rita Baranwal, Westinghouse AP300
Home » Atomic Show #306 – Dr. Rita Baranwal, Westinghouse AP300

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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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