AP1000 New Nuclear Power Plant Design — making the NRC accountable for doing its job in regulating new reactor designs

There has been a lot of protest in response to the NRC’s decision to go ahead with the current schedule for licensing new reactor designs and new reactor construction.  Those protesting cite the accident at Fukushima as a good reason to suspend decisions until more is understood, but the accident at Fukushima really had little to do with the protests.

Even before the Fukushima accident on March 11th, there had been petitions to delay the rulemaking certifying the design of the AP1000.   A few days before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan,  Congressman Markey had sent a letter to the  NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) urging it not to rush into a rulemaking before fully addressing valid concerns about the design.  A press release about that dated March 8, 2011 is here:


and Markey’s letter to NRC Chairman Jaczko is here:


A coalition of several dozen groups and individuals (I was not among them) also filed petitions appealing to the NRC in a similar vein.   A good summary of things as of April 21st is on cleanenergy.org ‘s blog, here:


It contains links to the petition to delay rulemaking (which, I believe, was not granted), along with supporting documentation.

Until a few weeks ago, I stayed on the sidelines. Occasionally I observed a protest here or there.  It was not that I was unconcerned; it was just that I did not know whether commenting on the rulemaking this time around would have any effect.  I was burnt out from previous efforts.  I had commented on the rulemaking for the AP1000 in 2005, when “Final Design Approval” was granted — the first time.  (A copy of my comments, dated July 5, 2005,  is here:  SterrettCommentAP1000DesignCertNRCRulemaking1534-0003 )  There was practically no opposition to certifying the AP1000 design then, and I felt very alone.

After the design was certified in January 2006, it turned out that some design changes were needed.  I was not surprised that the design that the NRC had certified had to be changed (“amended” is the word used, I believe) — I had pointed out problems with the overall design approach that had been taken in “stretching” the design from the AP600 to the AP1000.  By the year 2011,  though, I no longer looked to the NRC as an effective regulator or enforcer.  In fact, I did not engage with or appeal to the NRC after the rulemaking which resulted in certifying the (earlier version of the) AP1000 design in January 2006.

However, I had great sympathy with those who did choose to appeal to the NRC to do the job it was supposed to do:  regulate the design and operation of nuclear power plants free of concerns about pleasing the administration or industry.  I decided I should help if I could.  I was happy to volunteer to point out the concerns that I had brought up prior to the design certification the NRC granted the AP1000 in January of 2006, and I spoke with Arne Gundersen of Fairewinds telling him of my concerns.  I actually found Arne Gundersen’s report about the unreviewed safety issue he identified very well-done and interesting, and told him so.  ( I am writing a separate post about that.)

Evidently the “Friends of the Earth” has chosen to cite some of the items I mentioned.   Some precision got lost in the translation, however — understandably, perhaps, as time was short and the saga I related was so long and complex.

So, I’ve decided to post the information I made available to Gundersen of Fairewinds.com for his and anyone else’s use here.   Anyone who is interested can look up and view all the original documents I submitted in the years leading up to the 2006 design certification for themselves.

So that there is no question as to the provenance of the documents,  what I’ve done is to provide the number you can use to view the actual publicly available document IN THE NRC’s OWN FILES.  These are uniquely identified by a document number that begins with “ML”  You can find it in the NRC’s publicly available system called ADAMS, here:  http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/adams.html   If you read the directions carefully, and use the “Begin Web based ADAMS search”  link, you should be able to find any of the documents cited using the MLxxxxxx identification number.

Here, then, is the information and narrative of my saga that I provided as input for use by those begging the NRC to take things slowly & do things right the first time through.  You can look up the documents yourself if you like, using the ML numbers I provide.

However, unless you have a great deal of energy and stamina, I would suggest looking mainly at the first item I mention below, which are my comments on the rulemaking, dated July 5, 2005, (and skimming the long saga of events leading up to it for context and/or items of special interest to you).   I worked hard to make my points concisely in that letter, a copy of which is here: SterrettCommentAP1000DesignCertNRCRulemaking1534-0003

————  my input to the petitioners for their use, only slightly edited ———-

Now, as to documents about the concerns I brought up to the NRC for
the previous rulemaking on the AP1000 that was made in 2005/2006:

If you have access to ADAMS on the NRC Website, you can access a lot
of the documents I cite below that way.  [. . . you can then cite them using the ADAMS accession no. (i.e., the MLXXXXXX number) which is available to anyone online. . . ]

There is a lot of stuff to cite, and I am not sure how you are going
to organize/use the points. After listing the comments that I
submitted on the proposed rulemaking on July 5, 2005, I have listed
the documents pertaining to the saga leading up to it in roughly
chronological order.  Feel free to ask about where particular facts or
points can be found.


ADAMS accession number:  ML051880279
“Comment (3) submitted by Dr. Susan G. Sterrett on Proposed Rule
PR-52, AP1000 Design Certification Rule” dated July 5, 2005

A copy is here: SterrettCommentAP1000DesignCertNRCRulemaking1534-0003

Note:  My comments on the proposed rulemaking in this letter are
organized into three major points, illustrated with examples.  The
issue about heat of solar radiation is presented as an illustration of
the third point (that the accelerated schedule led to cutting
regulatory corners).   To get the letter where I first presented the
concern about heat of solar radiation in greater detail:  under item 2
of the list of references I give below you will see that that
reference includes the letter I wrote about heat of solar radiation to
originally bring up the issue; thus, you should be able to get the
official copy of it that is in the NRC’s files using the ADAMS
accession number.

By law, the NRC was required to respond to my comments, publicly, in
the Federal Register notice of the rulemaking.  They paraphrased my
concerns and dispensed with them.  I felt the responses were actually
unresponsive to my concerns.

The next step would have been for me to bring that up at the mandatory
hearing that used to be required for design certifications.  However,
in February of that year,  the CFR [Code of Federal Regulations] section pertaining to hearings was changed to exempt design certifications from having mandatory hearings, so there was not that opportunity to respond.

I did not pursue it any further.  Hence, my comments on the proposed
rulemaking in this July 5, 2005 letter were my last word on the AP1000
to the NRC.

OK, now here are documents pertaining to the saga leading up to it:


“Meeting Minutes of the 501st ACRS Meeting, April 10 – 12, 2003”
See the Meeting Handout that is attached to the minutes: “Draft of
Remarks by Dr S. G. Sterrett 501st ACRS Meeting  April 11, 2003,
Rockville, MD”

(Context:  prior to approaching the NRC’s ACRS, I had tried to work
via the NRC staff. The project manager for the AP1000 review, Larry
Burkhart, had finally understood my concern about the level of design
detail, and had promised to get back to me. I waited to no avail. Upon
inquiring, I learned that Burkhart had been removed not only from
being the AP1000 review manager at the NRC, but was on assignment
elsewhere and unavailable to be contacted at all by any means. He had
left his job as NRC AP1000 project manager without ever contacting me,
and nobody else at the NRC notified me, either.)




“Meeting Minutes of the ACRS Future Plant Designs Subcommittee, July
17-18, 2003″
See the two letters from me that are attached.

(Note:  At this meeting the ACRS asked the staff how they would
respond to the earlier concerns about level of design detail, and Ms
Joelle Starefos, one of the NRC’s AP1000 co-project managers, replied
that the staff would reply in a letter in some sort of public forum.
(The transcript of the meeting includes her saying this.)  However,
shortly thereafter she moved to another position at the NRC.)

CALL THE NRC’S MR RAJ ANAND, WHO WAS ON A TEMPORARY 6 MONTH ASSIGNMENT ON THE AP1000 REVIEW.  (I did not want to give the NRC the opportunity to dispense with the promised formal reply in a letter in a public
forum by such a phone call, so I replied with this email.)

“Email from Dr. S. Sterrett – Your VoiceMail Re: AP1000 Design Certification”


“Transcript of ACRS Thermal-Hydraulic Phenomena Subcommittee Meeting
in Rockville, MD (pp 639 – 661)” [the date was February 11, 2004.  the
rest of the meeting was closed, hence the transcript of it is not
publicly available.]

Here is a bit of a guide to my testimony at this meeting:

pg 641 – 645  My remarks asking about the concern raised previously
regarding Quality Assurance of the design process by which the AP1000
was produced.  The ACRS then says explicitly that the NRC is NOT
treating the AP1000 as an uprating of the AP600, but as a NEW design.

pg 646  – pg  My remarks about the findings in the NRC’s QA Inspection
Report on the AP1000

There is an important point in this section that I don’t think the NRC
ever acknowledged; on page 648: I say:

[starting partway on line 7]  “Hence, the question
8 identified above about whether there was a procedure
9 and if so, which procedure it was that covered the
10 overarching process of determining which features,
11 calculations, and documents of the AP600 apply to the
12 AP1000 unchanged and which are impacted by the new
13 design, shall we say, remains.
14 The reason I focus on this is that it
15 can’t be done piecemeal. Many calculations use the
16 results of other calculations, either directly by
17 using values of parameters that are computed by other
18 calculations or indirectly by involving design
19 features or values of parameters based upon other
20 design calculations. The order in which things are
21 done matters.”

pg 649 ff  I discuss the findings in the QA Inspection Report (the
NRC’s report about QA of design process on AP1000) and explain why
they are really very major issues.

p 658  John Segala, of the NRC, a co-manager on the NRC’s AP1000
review says that the NRC had promised to reply to my concerns formally
in a letter, and that they still plan to do that.


“Response to Dr Susan Sterrett Concerns on AP1000 Design
Certification” (dated April 20, 2004)

Note:   None of the replies given adequately addressed the concerns I
had raised.  The letter might be very useful now (at the COL stage), though, in terms of holding the NRC accountable to the promises made in it by the NRC about what the NRC would do when a license application (e.g., for a COL) referencing the AP1000 was received.

6.  Memo NRC’s Raj Anand to NRC’s Laura Dudes  April 23, 2004

“Documentation of concerns regarding AP1000 Design Certification”

This is an administrative memo – It cites as references for
stakeholder concerns some ADAMS documents that I did not list above:
ML040270170  and ML040290611  and ML040290613-Pkg.

7.  ML040270170
“5/01/03 Memo to J Lyons re statement by Susan G Sterrett re AP1000
design certification application”

This is a very large file.  The NRC jammed a lot of correspondence
from me together into one pile and put it under one entry on ADAMS
with an uninformative/misleading subject line.  This makes it hard to
figure out what’s what, and difficult to find specific items that are
in there.  Some of the emails contain large amounts of repeated texts.
Some stuff from me may be elsewhere in ADAMS, but on the other hand,
perhaps not everything in this stack of stuff is included somewhere
else.  I include this entry in case some of the stuff is not anywhere
else in ADAMS.

8.  ML042080082   “Transcript of 514th ACRS Meeting, July 7, 2004, pgs
1-317 ” dated 07/07/2004

I believe this was the last ACRS meeting at which the AP1000 would be
discussed prior to FDA (Final Design Approval) of the AP1000.  Thus, I
attended.  I was given a chance to say why I thought the NRC Staff’s
formal response to my concerns still left some issues unresolved.
This begins at page 97.

Also, there should be attachments that I presented, in the form of a
memo dated July 8th, 2004 to the ACRS and some NRC staff.  I did not
know that I would be given a chance to speak orally, so I had prepared
that memo to be presented for inclusion into the meeting minutes.

At this meeting, the ACRS decided to devote a half hour special
session the next day, for them to discuss among themselves the issues
I brought up regarding the AP1000 design.

[Note: It occurs to me now that since structural integrity of the
shield building is now an issue for the upcoming rulemaking due to Dr
John Ma’s nonconcurrence report, I wonder if the _distribution_ of
temperatures in the shield building due to the heat of solar radiation
might take on an even larger importance (since temperature differences
in a structure can induce stresses, depending upon how the building is

The transcript is not a very good one.  If you are interested in
quoting from it, let me know what you plan to quote, so that I can
proof read the quote and note which words I consider mistranscribed,
along with corrections.

[After this meeting, Jim Lyons discussed my concerns with me.  I
recall two important things:  (i) he was adamant that the surface of
the concrete could not exceed the surrounding air temperature.  (This
is unquestionably false, as any good engineering reference on roof
design will reveal.)  (ii) He told me that if a plant had to shut down
during a heat wave, and thousands of people died as happened in France
in 2003, that that would be a great human tragedy, but that it was not
the NRC’s role to prevent that.  The NRC licenses plants along with
operating limits for plant operation.  [What he said actually does
seem consistent with the NRC’s stance on this, in that the section of
the FSER on site parameters explicitly says that the NRC does not
warrant the appropriateness of all of the site parameters, only that
the design is such that it will operate safely for a plant with such
site parameters.  This says even less than one might suppose, though,
since the license has operating temperature limits:  if certain
measured temperatures get too hot for a certain plant to operate, then
the plant has to take certain actions or it has to shut down. That’s
all.   James E. Lyons, who had written the NRC’s formal letter to me,
was then moved to another position within the NRC around this time.]

9.  ML042080030 “Transcript of 514th ACRS Meeting, July 8, 2004, pages
1 – 129.”  The part of the meeting about the AP1000 begins on page

The ACRS considered two of the three issues I brought up to be issues
that the staff ought to deal with, and so outside the purview of the
ACRS.  The technical issue of the design and analysis of the AP1000
safety systems and structures not taking into account the heat of
solar radiation was considered to be in their purview and they
discussed it.  I did not say anything during this one half hour
meeting.  Some of them (Dana Powers, Graham Wallis, and Mario Bonaca,
at least) seemed to understand the problem although it was not clear
what they intended to do about it.  When the letter report of the
meeting came out, I did not concur with their conclusions.

10.  ADAMS accession number:  ML051880279
“Comment (3) submitted by Dr. Susan G. Sterrett on Proposed Rule
PR-52, AP1000 Design Certification Rule” dated July 5, 2005

[See notes about this above, at the very beginning of the email.]

This is the last thing I did about the AP1000 design certification.

[. . .]

Other places my input to the NRC approval process of the AP1000 appear;

I list them in case they may be helpful references for
details at some point:

“501st Summary Report 4/10-12/03″

from pg 4 – 5 of the ACRS Summary Report of its 501st meeting.

———– beginning of excerpt ———————————-

5. Subcommittee Report on AP1000 Design Certification Matters

The Vice Chairman of the Thermal-Hydraulic Phenomena Subcommittee provided a
report to the Committee highlighting the matters associated with AP1000 that were discussed at the Subcommittee meeting on March 19-20, 2003.  Also, Dr. Susan G. Sterrett (Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy/Duke
University) presented and submitted a statement regarding the level of detail of the AP1000 design review.

Dr. Sterrett expressed concern regarding whether the NRC verifies or
asks for proof that the system fluid parameters reported in the AP1000 design
certification application (and used in the analyses reported in topical reports) are actually justified by design details, as opposed to the system designs [being] at the conceptual stage.”

————– end of excerpt ————————————————-

ML050980234   “M050407 Meeting with ACRS – Exhibits” dated 03/25/2005


2 Responses to AP1000 New Nuclear Power Plant Design — making the NRC accountable for doing its job in regulating new reactor designs

  1. sgssgssgs says:


    “U.S. Nuclear Agency Has ‘Technical Issues’ With Westinghouse Reactor”

  2. sgssgssgs says:

    I should note somewhere on this page that, subsequent to writing this in early 2011, I did find reason to participate (via phone) in some public NRC meetings about the AP1000 design certification of later versions of the design (rev 19). The details are recounted in later blog entries, and I expect there to be occasions on which I will comment in the future, too. These should be locatable by searching on this blog. The slides and text of my talk to the NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards given during the summer of 2011 (August) should be locatable via search on the NRC’s website as well.

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