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How Safe?

The growing interest in the pebble bed design comes amid changes in the U.S. regulatory apparatus designed to make it easier to build and operate nuclear plants of any approved type. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reduced bureaucratic obstacles to nuclear plants by allowing for a combined construction and operating license. This eliminates the two-step process that produced the debacle in Shoreham, NY, where a nuclear power plant was fully built but never allowed to operate because of fears the region’s population couldn’t be evacuated in case of accident. The regulatory commission also has begun approving new reactor designs. In recent years, it has signed off on upgraded versions of existing water-cooled designs said to be significantly simpler, safer and more efficient than their predecessors. Regulators and Exelon have already begun preliminary reviews of the safety of the pebble bed design.

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