Saturday, March 8, 2008

Utah nuclear project update

Transition Power tells the NRC it will file a reactor license application by 2010
[Update 05/02/08; below][Update 07/29/08]

Utah State Rep. Aaron Tilton is jolting some neural neutrons in Utah with a letter he sent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this week. In it Tilton, the nominal head of a shell corporation called Transition Power Development, sent a letter to the nuclear regulator to keep his place in line for review of a reactor license application should he ever submit one. According to a report in the Salt Lake City Tribune, Tilton says in the letter that Transition will apply for early site approval and a full reactor license by April 2010. There are plenty of challenges ahead for the project and some of them are of Tilton's own making.

The letter sparked speculation week about the location for the proposed reactors. Based on Transition's name for it, "the Blue Castle Generation Project," the newspaper said some guessed "the site is near Blue Castle Butte on the southern edge of the Book Cliffs, east of Route 6, north of Interstate 70 and the town of Green River, and west of the take out for Desolation Canyon river trips." That's pretty specific so the trib's reporter must know the area! Given the spectacular landscapes, the likely controversy over siting a nuclear reactor there will probably make national headlines.

Tilton, who also serves as a Republican state legislator representing Springville, told the Tribune, "It would be a mistake to assume that's the location." He said there are two favored sites, one in Emery County and the other "down by the border." "We're trying to finish some negotiations on a location." The border location was previously reported by the Trib as being in the Kanab area.

The NRC called the letter routine and said they would add it to their job jar if Tilton ever files the paperwork for a reactor license. [Update - On 3/10/08 NRC dutifully added Transition Power to its list of expected license applications for 2010.] That said the Feds may privately, if not officially, have good reason to be skeptical about the UTah application.

Discontinuities abound with Transition Power

Credibility issues have dogged the project including Tilton's lack of business experience especially with large energy projects. Transition Power is not listed on any stock exchange, but has a web page hosted by another energy firm in North Carolina called EnergyPath. It identifies itself as a consulting firm and is not a utility or developer of nuclear power plants. However, the listed credentials of its principals and associates are impressive so maybe they can help Tilton make his case.

Utah legislators and their constituents have been divided over how the rate base will support investment in a new nuclear reactor. Tilton and Rep. Mike Noel took a fair amount of heat last fall when the project was first announced because of their advocacy for changes to Utah laws affecting new nuclear power plants. The primary change, based on a Florida law, would provide a regulated revenue stream to cover costs while the nuclear plant was under construction.

Hearings on the power bills were contentious and one witness, David Freeman who is a former TVA director, promoted fear, uncertainty, and doubt. During the legislative hearings last September, one of the nominally pro-nuclear speakers, Nils Diaz who is a former NRC Commissioner, turned out to also be a consultant to Transition Power, a detail Tilton neglected to mention to the news media.

Also, Tilton's firm signed up to buy water rights from a Kanab, UT, water district where Noel is the director of the district. The water rights issue had the paradoxical effect of adding fuel to fire metaphorically speaking. After the uproar over these discontinuities, Tilton and Noel amended their conflict of interest filings with the Utah Legislature. Apparently no laws were broken, but the perception of conflict of interest was emphasized by anti-nuclear groups who after all did have a point.

So readers are advised to keep their baloney detectors handy because this show is just getting on the road, and where it goes nobody knows.

Update 05/02/08

Rep. Aaron Tilton of Springville won't have to worry about conflict of interest charges after November over his role as the head of Transition power, a company planning to bring a nuclear power plant, or two, to Utah. He was upset in the Utah County Republican convention by former Mapleton City Councilman Francis Gibson who beat Tilton decisively with 60% of the vote.

However, the nuclear energy issue isn't what sent Tilton's first elected term in the legislature into the dustbin. According to U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon, also a republican, Tilton got on the wrong side of a developer's plan to build a residential subdivision and angered the neighbors and in a sparsely populated mountain bench area; as in rich, republican neighbors.

Tilton may not cry very much since he's the paid front man for a shell company that has as yet unnamed "investors," but no assets. At least he won't have to resort to selling nutritional supplements on the Internet to make ends meet.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Is Areva tipping its hand for Richland?

The cat might be out of the bag with comments from one of the firm's VPs

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that a senior Areva executive says that even with the legislation now pending in the Idaho state legislature, it still isn't as competitive as Washington state where Areva already has a nuclear fuel fabrication facility.

Areva vice president Bob Poyser -- “It’s not rocket science to realize that there’s some synergies associated with a facility that is already there and operated by Areva. Obviously, the enrichment process is one step before the fuel fabrication process so it makes good sense to try to be in the same area if we can.”

In Idaho, Areva hired lobbyists to push for for tax incentives. Poyser says Areva didn't do that in Olympia because Washington’s tax environment "is already competitive.”

The Las Cruces Sun reported that Poyser also said his company has not hired lobbyists or an outside counsel in New Mexico.

"We're getting excellent cooperation from the individuals interested in the project in southern New Mexico," he said. "It's allowed us to work without lobbyists or outside counsel."

Poyser's comments are extraordinary because they represent a preference for Richland at a time when the process is still supposed to be open. A committee of Areva executives, include Poyser and CEO Anne Lauvergeon, are supposed to make the decision on a location for the plant in the next few weeks.

If Poyser is letting the cat out of the bag ahead of time, there are going to be some really annoyed people in four other states who think they still have a shot and are working on it. That includes the Idaho State Senate which is scheduled next Monday to take up the issue of tax incentives to get the company to come to Idaho. The measure passed in the House this week after nearly heroic lobbying by elected officials and economic development groups.

In recent days Areva has also let it be know that a site near Andrews, TX, is in the running along with sites in Hobbs, NM, and Idaho Falls, ID. The only site that hasn't been disclosed is one in Ohio. Last year Areva signed on as a partner for a potential GNEP site near Piketon, OH. With that site characterization information already in hand, it is as likely a candidate site as any in the Buckeye state.

For that matter the site for Idaho Falls may be 3,000 acres near Atomic City which was characterized under the GNEP program by EnergySolutions. DOE canceled the site selection process, but the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant location studies are worth quite a bit for a company that wants to use them to select a site for a uranium enrichment plant.

There has been speculation that Areva is or was internally split on the preferred location. Poyser is the firm's VP for environmental affairs which nominally is not a revenue slot at the "C" level of the firm. He would certainly know about the GNEP site studies. Is he speaking for himself or a faction of the management? What are they thinking in Paris about his comments? What was Poyser thinking when he made them?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Texas site for Areva plant revealed

Regional synergy with LES plant in New Mexico possible.

Andrews, Texas is just across the border from the LES uranium enrichment plant now under construction in New Mexico. Economic development officials in that town today revealed they are in the running for a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant to be built by French nuclear giant Areva. Andrews County could be the site for a $2 billion uranium enrichment facility, Economic Development Corp. Director Wesley Burnett told a local newspaper.

The potential site is in far western Andrews County near the uranium enrichment facility being built by Louisiana Energy Services in Lea County, N.M., and Waste Control Specialists, which stores low-level radioactive waste in Andrews County.

Lea County is working with Eddy County, home of the federal Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which stores radioactive waste, on snaring the Areva plant for itself. Lea County Economic Development Corp. CEO Bethe Cunningham would not reveal the proposed site, but said it is not near LES. However, other press reports have placed Areva's choice as being near Hobbs, NM. Both counties said their economic development agencies were cooperating with each other to win the deal for the plant.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Areva puts Richland in the running

French nuclear giant is beating the bushes for greenbacks
[Update 03/06/08]
Not unlike a safari in Africa, Areva has a line of beaters flushing economic incentives out of the underbrush of state economic development efforts. It's working.

After taking Lynchburg, VA, off-the-table on Monday this week Areva named Richland, WA, as a finalist in race for a new uranium enrichment plant worth $2 billion. According to a report in the Tri-City Herald, Areva has named Richland as one of five finalist sites for a new uranium enrichment plant. Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC) has been working to recruit Areva.

A recommendation on the site for the plant is expected to be made to the Areva executive committee before the end of the month, said Anne Lauvergeon, Areva's CEO, in a letter to Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire. The letter said financial issues will drive the decision.

“Now, as we approach a final decision in the coming weeks, we are focused entirely on the economic evaluation of each site, including land and infrastructure costs, of course, but also tax structures and economic incentives,” Lauvergeon wrote.

Aaron Toso, press secretary for Gov. Chris Gregoire, told the Herald that Richland's spot on Areva's short list "illustrates that Washington is open for business and has a good economic climate for business to locate here."

The proposed site would be next to its Richland plant on Horn Rapids Road that fabricates nuclear fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

Tax break dancing

Meanwhile in Idaho two tax incentives designed to attract Areva passed in the House. The bills would cap county property tax valuation for plants the size of Areva proposed facility and provide exemptions from certain other state taxes. The measure now goes to the Idaho State Senate.

Washington also has an attractive tax structure, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs. Areva would not be required to pay sales tax on the plant or equipment, It could receive a tax break on the state's business and operations tax based on the number of employees and their wages, Petersen said. He added the plant will require 20 Mw of electricity for its gas centrifuge equipment and that the region can supply it.

Other sites, other plants

Areva has not yet disclosed the locations in Texas and Ohio that are under consideration. The sites that are known are Richland, WA, Idaho Falls, ID, and Hobbs, NM. The company has lobbied heavily for tax breaks in all three states and has engaged the political leadership at all levels. Significantly, the three states that are known all have federal energy laboratories in them that significantly impact their respective economies as well as a long history of engagement with large nuclear facilities. This is not the case in Texas, but Ohio already has a uranium enrichment plant run by USEC. That company is building a new plant at that location to rival Areva's efforts and which will also compete with the National Enrichment Facility, now under construction and located in Eunice, NM. It is run by Louisiana Energy Services.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Lynchburg out of the running for Areva plant

Four sites still have a shot
* * * Hat tip to Phillip Barr of New Mexico * * *
Areva has taken its Lynchburg, VA, site out of the running for a $2 billion uranium enrichment plant. Laurence Pernot, spokeswoman for Areva NC, said Monday that the company is no longer considering any sites in Virginia for the $2 billion uranium enrichment facility it plans to build.

She said the company is only considering sites in Idaho, Texas, Ohio, Washington and New Mexico now. She said Virginia is a good location, but the other sites are better technically.

“The selection process is very, very rigorous. We consider geological, environmental and social criteria,” she said. “It’s a very complicated and sophisticated selection process.”

Last summer, another Areva NC official said the Lynchburg area was being considered. Until Monday, Pernot would not comment on whether Lynchburg was still a possibility.

Coincidentally, the Virginia legislature tabled a measure Monday to study the feasibility and environmental issues related to a massive uranium deposit near Danville, VA. Currently, Virginia bans uranium mining. See previous blog coverage of Areva's potential interest in this uranium mining opportunity.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sarkozy promotes Areva on South Africa visit

France pitches South Africa for new nuclear business

The Sunday Independent in South Africa reports that French President Nicolas Sarkoy is visiting to promote Areva's nuclear energy solutions over that of Toshiba's Westinghouse. Sarkozy, on his first state visit to South Africa, is leading a delegation of 40 French chief executives, including Anne Lauvergeon, the CEO at Areva. Unlike his recent trip to India, the French President was able to bring his new wife with him as the official first lady. Also unlike India, Sarkozy is dealing with a country that has signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The Independent reports that Sarkozy is frank about his intention to help French companies win business.

"We will fight to get the overall power plant market, coal and nuclear," Sarkozy told a meeting of representatives of South African and French companies in Cape Town.

Nuclear energy is critically important to South Africa because of its growing problems with electricity shortages. Areva heads a consortium of French and South African companies that is biding to build Nuclear 1, a twin-reactor nuclear power station that will produce about 3,500MW of electricity. An award on the bid and a start order for construction are expected later this year. According to the Independent, Areva has a head start over Westinghouse because it built the nuclear reactors for the Koeberg nuclear power station, near Cape Town. Koeberg is the country's only nuclear power generator.

Areva is also expected to bid for the full "fleet" of as many as 12 nuclear reactors, producing a total of 20 000MW of electricity, that Eskom is planning to build by 2025. It has been estimated that Nuclear 1 will cost up to R120-billion. At that cost, building 12 reactors to produce 20 000MW would cost about R700-billion at today's prices and a lot more by 2025.

Areva reportedly boosted its chances of winning the nuclear power plant contracts when Lauvergeon, signed a contract with the government for Areva to train South African nuclear engineers. Local technology transfer is a key component of the bid according to Eskom.

The newspaper did not report any aspects of the french proposal which dealt with financing. The South African government has taken a penny pinching approach to Eskom's needs for capital offering a loan that addresses just 20% of its requirements over the next five years. France could probably seal deal if it offered to build the new nuclear plants as merchants in return for government guarantees on rates and purchases of electricity.

To try to curtail the spread of brownouts Eskom and the government are shifting the burden of load balancing and energy conservation to large industries such as the economically important mining sector including gold, diamonds, and uranium. The brownouts have crippled South African industry and limited the country's overall economic growth.

Eskom is pedaling as fast as it can to get the new energy generation plants under construction. In the meantime South Africa has become a poster child for what happens when countries dither over fuel sources while the lights are going out, when it undercuts the rate base, and then fails to realize that short sighted politics have long term consequences. Electricity is so basic to the government's credibility that failure to supply to industry and households can destabilize the entire nation. That is what is at stake in South Africa.

State legislators craft nuclear energy policy

Efforts underway to embrace new nuclear power plants

While California, the most energy intensive state in the country, continues its 30-year ban on new nuclear power plants, and New York engages in an economically self-destructive attack on the Indian Point nuclear plant, efforts in three Midwestern states to embrace nuclear energy have met with mixed results according to several AP wire service reports. For now it looks like the box score is one for three. That's not much of an embrace, but the benefits to one state are so clear cut that others will be thinking about following in its footsteps.

A move by Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin to overturn the state's 25-year ban on new nuclear power plants ran into a buzz saw of partisan political opposition in the Senate and from Gov. Jim Doyle. The Wisconsin Citizens Utilities Board urged lawmakers to reject the measure saying the state's energy future is better served by renewable energy sources.

In Kentucky a proposal that would lift a current state ban on new nuclear power plants gained support from USEC which runs the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant and from labor unions. Sponsors of the legislation want to make Kentucky attractive as a site for a new nuclear power plant.

In Iowa lawmakers are considering incentives to expand nuclear power in the state. Having robust electricity supply is what landed a $600 million Google computer center now under construction in Council Bluffs. The state is courting a Microsoft data center which could be a $750 million investment.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin a measure backed by business groups introduced in the republican controlled House would repeal a 1983 law that bans new nuclear power plants unless the federal government opens a spent nuclear fuel repository. It was passed as a result of the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island.

According to the AP wire supporters say nuclear power is already among the most reliable sources of electricity for the state, pointing to the Kewaunee and Point Beach reactors. They say it is more efficient to produce than energy from coal and better for the environment since it does not give off gases that contribute to global warming.

"Especially given the growing concern about climate change, Wisconsin will need the option of new nuclear in the years ahead," Brian Rude of the Dairyland Power Cooperative, which owns a closed nuclear reactor in Genoa, Wis., said in testimony to lawmakers.

The bills would require the state to figure out how it will meet its future energy needs when the Point Beach and Kewaunee reactors stop operating in 2033.

Prospects for the bill are dim. The AP reported that in the democratic ruled Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, said the bill won't get a hearing in the Senate, let alone pass. "I don't see a great public groundswell for nuclear energy," Decker said.

Kentucky

A proposal introduced in the Kentucky state senate would lift the current state ban on new nuclear power plants. Sen. Bob Leeper, an independent lawmaker from Paducah, said the bill would put Kentucky on the map in terms of being on the radar screen for the industry. He said with 25-30 applications for new nuclear plants expected within the next three years Kentucky ought to try to attract one of them.

Currently, Paducah is home to a uranium enrichment plant. Another plant, the National Enrichment Facility, is being built in Eunice, NM. A third is planned for a so far undisclosed location by Areva.

Rob Erwin, president of the United Steelworkers in Paducah said nuclear power plants have come a long way since Three Mile Island. However, Tom Fitzgerald, of the Kentucky Resources Council, an environmental group, argued that wind power was a better way to go. He said it was unwise for Kentucky to send a signal it wants nuclear power plants until the problem of managing spent nuclear fuel has a solution. Senator Ernesto Scorsone, a democrat, called Leeper's measure "reckless," and said echoed the environmental view on nuclear waste.

Iowa

The benefits of having electricity to serve high technology industries, along with the high paying jobs they bring, are clearly apparent in Iowa. So much so that 57 representatives in the House have signed on to a proposal to allow nuclear power plants to apply for millions of dollars in state grant money. According to the Associated Press supporters of the measure say high tech firms will go elsewhere unless the state expands its energy sources.

"This is, in my opinion, the right direction for the Legislature to send the signal that yes, we are interested in you guys ... making this investment, growing the work force," said Rep. Kraig Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican who supports the proposal.

"One of the main attractions of Iowa is affordable and abundant power," said Timothy Coonan, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives. "If we're not thinking ahead and planning, looking sometimes 25 to 50 years in the future for energy needs, we hit a ceiling."

Feds & Congress aren't much help to states

The federal government and Congress could do a lot more to address the spent fuel problem, but with Democrats ruling in the Senate, and with Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as the majority leader, little is likely to happen until we get leadership from the next president. Neither of the two Democratic candidates for the nomination have anything more than lukewarm and equivocal platitudes in comments about nuclear power. Sen. John McCain has so many problems with his conservative political base that it seems unlikely he could win the election no mater who the Democrats put up. This leaves action on the nuclear energy front with the states. Initiatives in legisaltures like the ones reported here for Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Iowa are likely to be repeated elsewhere.

Todd Allen is new ATR Science Director

Wisconsin materials expert will head Idaho nuclear research reactor

Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has selected University of Wisconsin-Madison nuclear fuels and materials expert Todd Allen to lead its newly created Advanced Test Reactor (ATR) National Scientific User Facility. (video)

"The ATR is the country's most capable research reactor for doing nuclear fuel and materials development," says Allen, an assistant professor of engineering physics at the university.

INL's choice for Allen earned praise from the Department of Energy.

"We are delighted that Dr. Todd Allen will serve as the first scientific director of the Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility," said Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis R. Spurgeon. "Todd is a respected researcher, a seasoned manager and he is an excellent choice to put the Advanced Test Reactor at the scientific forefront. His selection will benefit the U.S. Department of Energy, the nuclear power industry, and university nuclear science and engineering education in the United States."

A pressurized light-water reactor, the ATR is owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and has operated continuously at Idaho National Laboratory since 1967. Until recently, the U.S. Navy used the reactor for testing nuclear fuels and materials. In April 2007, the DOE designated it as a national scientific user facility to support university, industry and national laboratory research of nuclear fuels and materials.

Materials research agenda

At UW-Madison, Allen and his students study corrosion and radiation damage in materials for nuclear energy systems. "For determining reactor performance, what you really care about is how the neutrons in a nuclear reactor change materials' properties," he says.

On campus, his group uses an ion-beam accelerator to bombard potential reactor materials with high-energy particles. The accelerator gives the researchers an idea of the toll years of life in a nuclear reactor might take on the materials.

However, says Allen, the ion beam literally just scratches the surface. "It only damages thin films, essentially, on the surface, on the order of 40 micrometers deep," he says. "And so it limits your ability to measure changes in bulk properties. You still learn a lot — but you can only do the real thing if you've got a neutron source."

That's where the ATR comes in. With its extremely high neutron flux, the reactor enables researchers to study the effects of intense radiation — the equivalent of years of radiation exposure in just weeks — on nuclear fuels and materials. And since its designation as a national scientific user facility, researchers at universities or other national laboratories now can vie for time and space in the ATR to do just that.

Boon to graduate students

"It's a way to bring people to the laboratory, to bring ideas into the laboratory, and to get university and laboratory staff to interact," says Allen.

Additional open research time also enables members of the U.S. light-water reactor industry to use the ATR as a research tool. As ATR director, Allen will help set the technical direction for the facility as its capabilities expand. He will divide his time between Idaho National Laboratory and his faculty position at UW-Madison, and will conduct research at both institutions. In particular, that research link will be a boon to Allen's graduate students.

"It opens up another very, very nice avenue for us to do tests that allow us to confirm things that we're going to learn in our university research program," he says. "For the students, it gives them access to a world-class facility that they might not have had otherwise — it opens up another dimension to what the students can do. And, because it's at a national lab, it also makes it more likely that people who might hire them later will be aware of what they're doing as they go through their graduate career."

Allen Brief Bio

Allen has previously worked with the U.S. Navy propulsion program and at Argonne National Laboratory's Idaho facility. He earned his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering in 1997 from the University of Michigan. Professor Allen is a nuclear engineer and material scientist with research interests centered primarily in fuels and materials for nuclear energy systems. He especially emphasizes the areas of radiation damage and corrosion. His research group works on advanced materials for Generation IV energy systems. Allen will begin his role as ATR director in March.

ATR Overcame environmental challenge

Last year environmental groups challenged the future of the ATR, but their lawsuit was rejected by the court which said no EIS was needed to cover routine maintenance and upgrades of equipment at the reactor.

Sleeping guards get wake up call from Congress

NRC comes clean on dropping the ball

The issue of sleeping guards at a nuclear power plant has reached the wholly predictable stage of a lashing for regulatory officials by Congress for blowing off the problem when first notified about it. The Associated Press reports the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acknowledged that the agency should have done more to investigate a tip that Wackenhut's security guards routinely took naps while on the job at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

It took months for the NRC to follow up. Initially, the agency referred the "tip" to Exelon for action and the reactor operator issued a "no problem" response. At this point the NRC closed the file. However, a video tape of the sleeping guards made its way to a major televison news program forcing the NRC and Exelon to confront the problem. [See previous coverage on this blog for additional details of the case and several updates.]

NRC Chairman Dale Klein testified during a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing this week that one reason for the delay in confirming the report is there was collusion by the guards to sleep during their shifts.

"We were not as rigorous as we should have been," said Klein, adding that the NRC is taking action to prevent similar problems at all nuclear plants.

Klein's statement is unusual for its candor. Most regulatory agencies revert to the "ketchup is a vegetable" strategy when confront by an outraged Congressional finding of lapses in judgment. That didn't slow down the oncoming train of criticism from the committee. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said the event was inexcusable, and he was concerned there was a culture at the plant that discouraged employees from coming forward to report problems.

Even today months after the incident Exelon seems to be in denial about public perceptions of guards sleeping on the job at nuclear power plants. Christopher Crane, Exelon's chief operating officer, told the committee the guards in the ready room were not at a guard post, but were instead in a staging area to assist other guards if there was an incident. The company has 17 reactors at 10 plants nationwide in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Does this mean there are sleeping guards, in collusion with each other, at 17 reactors at 10 plants? Of course not, but that is the inference that anti-nuclear groups are going to make. Plus the union representing the guards has a long list of grievances with Wackenhut and is out to paint a bleak picture about working conditions at the plants. While there are legitimate beefs here, the issues are about public relations as well as labor relations.

Crane seems to be tone deaf to the implications of his statement. The nuclear industry does not seem to get the idea that legal and regulatory issues have splash effects in terms of public perceptions. Every screw up is a rock in pond that makes waves and sways the boat of public support for nuclear energy. Rock it enough times and a seasick public will row for the far shore hosted by the anti-nuclear crowd.

Exelon did fire Wackenhut from its security contract for all 10 plants, which was the right thing to do. It's next step is to stop making excuses or offering "explanations." Take a page from Dale Klein's book. [NRC testimony]

Get it got it good.

Entergy goes for nuclear gold at Grand Gulf

Another new nuclear build planned in the deep south

The benefits of the Department of Energy's 2010 program are beginning to be seen in events this week in which Entergy (NYSE:ETR) and NuStart Energy Development announced they submitted a combined construction and operating license (COL) application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a new nuclear unit in Port Gibson, Miss.

The application seeks regulatory approvals to build a new unit adjacent to Entergy's existing Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, a reactor that, according to Entergy, ranks third among the nation's 104 nuclear plants for total electricity output over its lifetime of commercial operations. As such this is not a "greenfield site" and takes advantage of existing infrastructure offering significant cost advantages.

Entergy submitted the application with NuStart, a power company consortium created in 2004 to demonstrate the regulatory process for licensing new nuclear units and to complete the design engineering for selected reactor technologies. NuStart announced Sept. 22, 2005, that it had selected Grand Gulf as one of two plant sites for which it intended to submit combined construction and operating license applications. Entergy also has announced plans to submit an application for a combined construction and operating license for the River Bend site in St. Francisville, La., later this year.

A decision to build a nuclear plant at either location will be based on a number of factors, including;
  • an assessment of customers' need for additional power,
  • the estimated cost of the advanced nuclear energy plant,
  • the projected future cost of power from the plant compared to the projected cost of other fuel choices such as coal or natural gas, and
  • both federal and state regulatory certainty.
Entergy Nuclear's work on the construction and operating license application is part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Power 2010 program. NP 2010 is a joint government and industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies, evaluate the business case for building nuclear power plants and demonstrate the untested regulatory processes. The DOE chose NuStart in 2005 as a Nuclear Power 2010 award recipient to develop applications that will demonstrate the licensing process.

The Grand Gulf license application uses the GE Hitachi ESBWR technology, a design referenced late last year in a similar license application submitted by Dominion Virginia Power. NuStart worked with Dominion to help develop that reference application. The ESBWR design is one of two designs to utilize enhanced safety system designs submitted to the NRC for certification.

The regulatory process for a construction and operating license involves a comprehensive review that is expected to require at 42 months for completion. The actual review schedule will be determined only after the NRC completes its acceptance review of the Grand Gulf application.

Members of NuStart Energy consortium are: DTE Energy, Detroit; Duke Energy, Charlotte, N.C.; EDF International North America, Washington, D.C.; Entergy Nuclear, Jackson, Miss.; Exelon Generation, Philadelphia; Florida Power & Light Company, Juno Beach, Fla.; Progress Energy, Raleigh, N.C.; South Carolina Electric & Gas, Columbia, S.C.; Southern Company, Atlanta; Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tenn.; GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Wilmington, N.C.; and Westinghouse Electric Co., Pittsburgh.