A new nuclear reactor from the Westinghouse Electric Co. could safely withstand getting struck by a large commercial airliner, a federal advisory panel said Thursday.
The finding by the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards means regulators could decide this year whether to give final approval to the company's AP1000 reactor, which utility companies have picked to power new plants in the Southeast.
Members of the advisory committee said last month that other parts of the reactor design were reasonably safe, but they decided to separately evaluate whether the AP1000 meets rules requiring that reactors be able to survive an airplane strike. That rule was added after terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people by crashing hijacked jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001.
If a plane hits the reactor, the plant's containment vessel - which shields a container holding highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods - would remain intact, ACRS chairman Said Abdel-Khalik said in a letter. The panel also determined that crash damage would not cause the nuclear reactor to overheat and result in a radioactive release, and the pools used to cool spent nuclear fuel rods would not fail.
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are required to consider the panel's findings before deciding whether to give the new reactor design final approval.