Utility DTE Energy received the first approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a combined construction and operation license (COL) for Fermi 3 using GE Hitachi's ESBWR reactor design. The NRC says the license will be issued promptly. The news was reported by World Nuclear News.

The licence follows a seven-year technical, safety and environmental review process. DTE Energy has not committed to building a plant, but says it intends to keep the option open for long-term planning purposes.

The COL references GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), which received design certification from the NRC in September 2014. The 1,600 MWe reactor includes passive cooling safety features and uses fewer pumps and mechanical drives than reactors with so-called active safety systems. GE Hitachi claims the ESBWR also offers the lowest projected operating, maintenance and staffing costs in the nuclear industry on a per-kilowatt basis.

The COL application had to meet added conditions after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident of March 2011. The new requirements include mitigation strategies, spent fuel pool instrumentation and emergency preparedness plans. Other conditions include monitoring and analysis during initial start-up.

A second ESBWR COL application, for Dominion Virginia Power's North Anna 3, is under consideration by the NRC. According to GE hitachi, that project is expected to receive a licence in 2016.

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