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US nuclear regulator close to approving new GE Hitachi reactor

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission looks poised to approve a new nuclear reactor developed by a joint venture between Hitachi and General Electric. Getting the green light from the watchdog would pave the way for introducing the advanced reactor in the U.S. and other countries.

     The NRC has nearly completed its verification process and is expected to grant approval around September. Hitachi and GE are particularly keen to sell the new reactor to Asian, Middle Eastern and European countries that are looking to build new nuclear power plants.

     The contraption is an economic simplified boiling water reactor, or ESBWR, with output of 1.55 million kilowatts. Categorized as a Generation III+ reactor, it promises both greater safety and efficiency. It was designed by North Carolina-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

     If an accident cuts off the reactor's power supply, cooling water stored above the containment vessel is brought down by force of gravity -- no electricity required. This is supposed to prevent the nuclear fuel from overheating until power can be restored.

     Northeastern Japan's disaster-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station used Generation II reactors. When power at the plant was knocked out after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the cooling pump system failed, triggering meltdowns.

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