Saturday, May 16, 2009

Areva enters the nuclear medicine market

Current R&D focuses on Lead-212 to treat aggressive cancers

lightning2A “cowboy” country-and-western song performed by Chad Brock that includes the dramatic lyrics “Thunder is only noise, lightning does the work” finds new metaphorical meaning in the application of ionizing radiation to aggressive cancer tumors. This metaphor is brought to down to earth in the world of nuclear medicine by the new work of Areva NC, the French state-owned global nuclear giant, which is developing innovative uses for one of the world’s most unique isotopes.

For the past year, Areva has been working with the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, MD. The objective is to develop Lead-212 as a medical-quality radioactive isotope for use in new treatments for several types of aggressive cancers. The firm formed a new business unit in 2009 to fund the R&D clinical trials and develop a radiopharmaceutical drug based on the very short-lived isotope.

According to the NCI survival rates for Pancreatic cancer, which is one of the aggressive cancer types, are among the lowest of all cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2009 there will be approximately 43,000 cases and 35,000 deaths from the disease. The five-year survival rate is less than 5% of those diagnosed with the disease. The primary risks factors for pancreatic cancer include age, tobacco smoke, diabetes, and inherited predisposition to DNA mutations that cause the disease. Almost all patients are over age 45 and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 72.

Interview with Areva’s nuclear medicine CEO

Patrick Bourdet-141x197In an exclusive interview with this blog, Patrick Bourdet, (right) CEO of Areva's new business unit, said the R&D work with the NCI is taking place under the auspices of a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA). He said that Lead-212 has a very short half-life, as little as 8-10 hours, but it can used to target cancer cells to kill them directly.

According to Bourdet, the way the therapy would work is that the Lead-212 a Beta emitter, and its daughter decay product Bismuth-212, an Alpha emitter, binds to a specific peptide of the cancer cells.

Bourdet also noted that pancreatic cancer was not the only disease that has the potential to be treated by Lead-212 therapy should clinical trials prove to be successful. Other examples targeted by the R&D work at NCI include melanoma, ovarian, and colon cancer.

However, Bourdet said the R&D work has not yet entered clinical trials and that it will be several years before a therapeutic drug is available to physicians. He said that clinical trials could begin later this year or in early 2010.

How it works - target acquisition of cancer cells

Alpha emitters such as Bismuth-212, which is a decay product of Lead-212, are very effective at destroying single cancer cells. The Lead-212 is produced from a Radium-224 generator system which in turn is produced by the decay of natural Thorium-232 to Thorium-228 and to subsequent daughter products.

Bismuth 212 decay chain

Chart source: PNNL

Two scientists at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), John Hines and Bob Alcher, first develop a device for production of Bismuth 212 in 1989.

According to the Health Physics Society, Lead-212 and Bismuth-212 are currently used for experimental treatment of metastatic cancer in laboratory animals.

Alpha emitters kill cancer cellsAntibodies or peptides labeled with Lead-212, or its daughter Bismuth-212, target cell-surface antigens on cancer cells.

The alpha particles from Bismuth-212 are particularly effective in destroying cancer cells. The high level of ionization breaks cancer cell DNA chains so completely they cannot repair themselves.

In short, the alpha-emitting Bismuth-212 that decays “in vivo” from the very short-lived Lead-212 destroys the fast-spreading metastases of cancer that are difficult to treat with other combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, and external-beam radiation therapy.

The institutions using the Lead-212 and Bismuth-212 daughters of Radium-224 in cell-directed immunotherapy against cancer are the University of Missouri at Columbia, MO (melanoma treatment) and the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD (ovarian cancer treatment).

Building the business unit from scratch

Building a business from scratchAreva is doing something unusual for a global nuclear energy company. It is building the business unit from scratch. The firm has core competencies in things like uranium mines, nuclear reactors, and management of spent nuclear fuel, but none in nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceutical drugs. When a new product opportunity in the nuclear medicine field is not a core competency, the easy answer is to spin it to someone who knows the business. The plan is to let them take risks with the high costs of years of clinical trials, and reap licensing revenues if there is a success.

Bourdet says in this case the firm sought strategic business advice from AEC Partners, which is a strategic business consulting firm in the life sciences field, with offices in Paris and New York. After working with AEC, Areva decided to enter the nuclear medicine market with a new business unit which Bourdet now leads.

The business unit will be a supplier of Radium-224 which in turn produces Lead-212. If clinical trials are successful, the production facility and treatment center will have to be co-located because of the extremely short half-life of Lead-212.

Shortening the journey for clinical trials

clinical trialsMedical trials with humans require an enormous amount of groundwork. Bourdet says the three phases of clinical trials could take up to six years to complete. The three phases address safety, medical utility, and the development of a product (industrialization). However, Bourdet also said the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) offers a "shorter option for fast trials for treatments that hold the potential for very high-benefit therapeutic results." Accelerated approval of such treatments by the federal government depends on expected improved survival rates from the disease.

Areva has no investment or licensing partners at this time to share the cost of the clinical trials. However, Areva is confident enough of the outcome to have selected Goodwin Biotechnology (GBI) of Plantation, FL, to begin process development of a new radiopharmaceutical drug using Lead-212. GBI is a contract manufacturing organization that specializes in making therapeutic drugs used in all phases of clinical trials for new medicines.

From nuclear submarines to nuclear medicine

Areva La HagueAsked why he chose to get into this business, with its long-term risks and rewards, Bourdet said the company is backing him "because we have an unprecedented opportunity to boost the survival rates from some of the most deadly cancers known to medical science."

Bourdet comes to the job with more than 20 years’ experience in the nuclear industry He started his career in 1986 in nuclear submarines with Technicatome (now AREVA TA) and the French Atomic Energy Commission-Nuclear Propulsion Dept (CEA-DPN). He joined COGEMA (now AREVA NC) in 1998 at the La Hague site in Normandy, France, working in production facilities, and joined the AREVA NC headquarters in the sales and marketing Department in 2005.

The following year, he was appointed to lead the AREVA TAO (Thorium of AREVA for Oncology) project focused on cancer research. He negotiated the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) signed in 2008 with the NCI. In April 2009, Bourdet was appointed President and CEO of AREVA Med, a new company focused on the development of powerful drugs to combat cancer.

There is no drug right now and the clinical trials are still in the future, but Bourdet is hopeful that the outcome will be consistent with expectations. The goal is that patients with aggressive cancers will no longer be facing a death sentence, but rather will have an avenue of hope offered to them by a most unusual source - radioactive lead. That's a pretty good future for a new business.

Update 09/24/09 - Areva Med recognized by foundation

NEW YORK, September 24, 2009 ~ AREVA, through its subsidiary AREVA Med LLC, announced today that the Clinton Global Initiative has recognized its efforts to develop innovative production methods to produce medical-grade Lead-212. This isotope is used to combat cancer in promising alpha radio-immunotherapy treatments.

Since the signature of a cooperation and research agreement with the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the University of Alabama, AREVA Med has increased its efforts to demonstrate the benefits of the medical-grade lead-212.

Relying on its long experience in radiochemistry and nuclear engineering, AREVA has developed new processes to extract rare isotopes derived from its industrial activities.

AREVA CEO Anne Lauvergeon said:

“On behalf of all AREVA employees, I am honored that our efforts in nuclear medicine have been recognized by the renowned Clinton Global Initiative, which supports projects that are innovative and beneficial for people at a global scale. This recognition demonstrates our spirit of commitment worldwide. It is also a tribute to our American partners, including the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.”

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Western lands uranium gopher for May 16, 2008

Portions of this blog post were published in Fuel Cycle Week, May 13, 2008, V8,No.327 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC.


Grand Canyon uranium mining controversy re-ignites

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has given the green light to  uranium exploration at eight new sites at five separate projects within a 1 million acre area near the Grand Canyon tagged by the House Natural Resources Committee in June 2008. The committee tried to withdraw the lands under a little used provision of the 1976 Federal Land Management Policy Act, but then Secretary of Interior Dirk Kempthorne refused to accept the action. He pointed out the committee's republicans had walked out of the session leaving the committee without a quorum.  Kempthorne left office with the end of the Bush Administration and is said to be considering throwing his hat in the ring for President in 2012.

The BLM Arizona state office said the new mining authorization does not immediately allow on-site drilling, but does set the stage for future work due to the transfer of bonds to the new sites. Quaterra Alaska, which holds the bonds, is a U.S.-based subsidiary of Quaterra Resources (CVE:QTA) of Vancouver, a Canadian mining firm. It has a reported 2,400 mining claims near the Grand Canyon. The firm estimates the total resource along the Arizona Strip is 35 million pounds U3O8 based on historical estimates developed when the sites were mined for seven million pounds by Western Nuclear in 1979.

Environmental groups have waged a high profile campaign against new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon despite the fact there are thousands of claims within 100 miles of the boundary of the national park based on historical mining activities. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club have filed suit against BLM, but the case has not yet been heard in Federal District Court.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) reintroduced legislation this winter to ban uranium mining within the same 1 million acre area. He was beaten back in the previous Congress by the Bush Administration and Republicans who said the ban would cost the area jobs. So far Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar has not made any statements about the issue.

Cotter seeks to re-open Canon City uranium mill

Cotter Corp. may have been reading too many Superman comic books where the man of steel leaps over tall buildings in a single bound. The firm has set itself up to leap over a couple of very tall barriers to re-open its mill in Canon City, Colo. Cotter wants to process 12.5 million tons of ore from Mt. Taylor in New Mexico producing an estimated 500,000 pounds of U3O8. The project has a 25-year timeline according to Cotter.

The two most significant problems facing the firm is that the mill is a Superfund site and Mt. Taylor in New Mexico is listed as an "endangered site" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is said to be sacred to over two dozen Indian tribes.

More than two decades ago federal and state environmental officials discovered that contamination from uranium mill tailings were seeping into the groundwater that flows underneath Canon City (Pop 16,000). EPA built a new water supply system for the town to protect residents. Steve Tarlton, radiation manager for the Colorado Department of Health, told the Denver Post on May 3 that cleanup of the mill is required regardless of whether it gets a license to go back into production.

Cotter officials told the Post they want to resume operations in 2014. John Hamrick, VP for Milling, told the Canon City Daily Record reopening the mill would provide jobs for 80 workers and that the ore would come to the mill from New Mexico by train. He said it is unlikely the new mill will re-use any of the existing facility. "It's going to be to everyone's advantage to use new stuff," he said.

In New Mexico Mt. Taylor, a 12,000 ft high peak in the San Meteo Mountains, has been the center of uranium mining since the 1950s. Mt. Taylor is located in the Grants Uranium Belt which is one of the richest producing areas for uranium in the U.S. It went through major mining booms in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. New uranium prospecting has been taking place since 2006. Cotter believes that no new uranium mills will be built in New Mexico and that cost-effective hauling of ore by rail from new mines in the region to Canon City will make its Colorado mill profitable.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in April took the action of listing the mountain as the 11th most endangered cultural resource site in the U.S. due to its historic use by American Indians as a "sacred place." The list has no regulatory or legal standing, but could form the basis for further action by the Trust or Native American tribes.

Energy Fuels pursues permits for Montrose Mill

George Glasier is confident his firm Energy Fuels (TSE:EFR) can raise the $150 million he needs to build a new 1,000 ton/day uranium mill at the Pinion Ridge site in the Paradox Valley in Montrose County, Colo. He's going to need confidence, and luck, because right now the firm has just $13 million in the bank and the spot price of uranium is stuck below $45/lb. Glasier thinks he'll need a sustained, long-term contract price with utilities of $70/lb to make money.

So far he says he's spent $8 million on permitting, but his stock price is in the tank at $0.54/share against a 52-week range of $0.11-$1.29/share. He claims he has commitments of $35 million so far from early investors. The firm acquired Magnum Energy, with properties in Emery County, Utah, late last year, but that was mostly a stock for cash deal to raise capital. It gained him just over $4 million.

Another question is where is the uranium going to come from? The firm has two mines both of which are shut down due to the low price of uranium. The Whirlwind and Energy Queen mines, both located in the highly productive Uravan belt between Colorado and Utah, are not operating. Efforts to develop toll milling agreements with Denison at its mill in Blanding, Utah, did not work out.

Glasier's next step is to complete a special use application process with the Montrose County Commissioners in June. He also has to get a grab bag of permits from state agencies in Colorado. The state regulates uranium mills so he does not need a license from the NRC.

If this all goes according to plan, the firm can break ground in early 2011 assuming investors show up. Right now public support for the new mill is good. Glasier point out the mill will produce 85 jobs with a payroll of $4.3 million/year. He adds that when the mines reopen jobs there could pay as much as $90,000/year for experienced miners and about half that amount for truck drivers and helpers to move the ore to the mill.

Merger Mania Continues in Western U.S.

Industry consolidation continues to drive mergers based on record low stock prices for uranium juniors operating in the western U.S. Anglo Canadian Uranium Corp. (TSX:URA) plans to combined with Mancos Resources LLC and two other firms to engage in uranium exploration and assess the feasibility of building a uranium mill in the four corners region of southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah where is has several hundred uranium claims.

Mancos Mill attacked as "speculative"

Mancos has been trying to develop a mill at Green River, Utah. Uranium Watch, an environmental group, is making a case under Utah law that the claim for water to run the mill is "speculative." A companion claim by Transition Power LLC for water in the region for a proposed nuclear power plant, also to be located at Green River, involves a swap with water from Kane County in the southern-most part of the state. Where Mancos wanted under 900 acre feet for the mill, the reactor project has filed a request for 30,000 acre feet of water per day. Water is the key to success for either project.

Titan Uranium to acquire Uranium Power Corp.

Titan Uranium (CVE:TUE) will acquire the outstanding stock of Uranium Power Corp. (CVE:UPC) to achieve 100% ownership of the firm. The deal offers Uranium Power shareholders a slight premium (3.4%) over market close on May 7. The stock closed at $0.27/share against a 52-week range of $0.07-$0.55/share. With 98.24 million shares, the all stock deal is worth just over $27 million.

UPC has been focused on developing uranium properties in the western USA. Its major asset is a 50% interest in the Sheep Mountain uranium mine in the Crooks Gap Mining District of Fremont County, Wyoming, in a joint venture with Uranium One Inc.

The Sheep Mountain mine has an NI 43-101 compliant Inferred Resource of 4,560,000 tons at an average grade of 0.17% eU3O8, (15.6 million pounds U3O8). That report was prepared in 2006. At the current spot price the resource would be worth about $670 million. That makes it a bargain in the all stock deal.

UPC also has significant interests in uranium exploration projects in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Saskatchewan.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Exelon back on track at Victoria, TX or not?

Hitachi inks contract with URS but for what?

May 20, 2009 (Victoria Advocate - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Exelon Nuclear has denied reports that a company was selected to build the proposed Victoria County plant. Reuters reported May 14 that Hitachi signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract (EPC) with URS Corp. to build the proposed plant.

"It's not true," said Craig Nesbit, an Exelon spokesman. "We haven't signed anything with anybody."

Exelon has an agreement with Hitachi to perform preplanning services such as licensing and cost estimating, Nesbit said.
"That's a huge difference than engineering, procurement and construction," he said.

URS will perform preplanning work under a contract Exelon has with Hitachi. URS is basically an Hitachi subcontractor, Nesbit said.

See updates below 05/15/09, 05/16/09, 05/18/09 for breaking news

And here is the original blog post

2hudsonsJust when you thought Exelon’s new nuclear reactor build at Victoria, TX, was coming off the rails, we spot news that the project is back on track. This week Hitachi hired construction giant URS (NYSE:URS) to build two 1,350 MW ABWR reactors. While none of the parties released information on the value of the contract, if the reactors are priced at $4,000/Kw, the 2,700 MW of electrical generation capacity weighs in at $10.8 billion.

The news this week is giving a lift to URS which is making its first entry into the market of building the new generation of nuclear power plants. URS Chief Martin Koffel announced the deal, but declined to provide any other details about it. It is known that once the reactors enter revenue service they will supply electricity to San Antonio, Houston and other cities in Texas.

GE_logoThis is also good news for the small Texas community which last November saw Exelon, the utility that wants the reactors, bid goodbye to the GE-Hitachi ESBWR, an untested 1,560 MW reactor.

A combination of problems between GE and the NRC in completing the design certification review of the new ESBWR reactor caused Exelon’s DOE loan guarantee application to be ranked near the bottom of the pile. The Department of Energy, reckoning that the ESBWR was not ready for prime time, or for market, told Exelon it was no longer in the running for the loan coverage.

Subsequently, Exelon chose the older, but certified ABWR design. Exelon must modify its NRC license application to reflect the change in reactors. Even so Exelon is proceeding without the loan guarantee coverage. DOE has in the meantime selected four other projects for its short list.

texas-flag While Victoria, TX, Exelon, and Hitachi are all celebrating their giant leap forward, an industry analyst told Reuters the bad news is the Obama administration has a “nebulous” policy toward nuclear energy. The analyst said nuclear energy “offers a clear path to reducing carbon emissions.” Deep in the heart of the Texas gulf coast, everyone concerned knows the second part to be true.

Update 05/15/09

In the department of one hand not knowing what the other is doing comes this report via Platts. Exelon will "delay or cancel" plans to build two reactors in Texas because that project was not among final four selected by DOE for the first round of loan guarantees.

Exelon Chairman/CEO John Rowe said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington May 15 . . .

Getting sustained support for new nuclear power in Congress "will remain avery difficult challenge until large majorities of both parties conclude thatit's needed," he said. However, "more and more people will come to realize"that any low-carbon generation strategy that is "competitive and effective"must "include a large component of nuclear energy."

File this under the general heading of WTF given the Reuters report of 05/15/09 that said the reactor vendor has inked an EPC contract for two reactors. I'll post additional updates as I get them.

Update 05/16/09

If you think some folks aren't talking to each other, you might be right, or someone isn't reading Platts or the Houston Chronicle, which had the same news. The latest news is that Martin M. Koffel, Chairman and CEO of URS, said on May 15 at the URS Corporation Q1 2009 Earnings Call transcript his firm has a deal with Hitachi at the Victoria, TX site. Here it is.

"We’re currently supporting three major generation III nuclear technologies; the advanced boiling water reactor, the economic simplified boiling water reactor, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries advanced pressurized water reactor.

In fact, we’re pleased to announce that URS has signed an agreement with Hitachi to provide licensing, cost estimating, and scheduling services for Exelon’s proposed two unit nuclear power plant in Victoria, Texas. Hitachi has been selected by Exelon to participate in this new plant using the advanced boiling water reactor technology.

Preliminary work will be conducted over the next several months, and then as the project proceeds, URS has an exclusive agreement with Hitachi to provide engineering procurement and construction services for the two nuclear units."

Whatever is going on doesn't make sense. On one hand Exelon is saying it plans to cancel the project, and on the other URS, says they are going to build it. Stay tuned.

Update 05/18/09

In response to the previous updates, an expert observer of the nuclear industry wrote in an email to this blog,

"Now from a regulatory standpoint, it's likely Exelon will go ahead with the COL application, and needs Hitachi and its subs (including URS) to develop the safety and engineering design for the application, a required exercise under Part 52. It's likely Exelon will go forward with the application, given that the COL doesn't require any actual construction to occur. The license lasts for 20 years and can be renewed, so they can hold onto the paper and wait out the financial situation."

"Rowe seems to have his nuclear ambitions in South Texas trained on NRG and the South Texas Project. He can have Victoria when STP 3 & 4 are built. "

Comments anyone?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gregory Jaczko named as NRC Chairman

No Senate confirmation is needed to take the post

nrclogoPresident Barack Obama has named Gregory Jaczko as Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  He is the only Democrat on the Commission and previously served as a science advisor to now Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev).

The Las Vegas Sun reported Jaczko, age 38, will be responsible for regulating the nuclear energy industry which supplies 20% of the nation's electricity.  His biggest immediate challenge will be to resolve the many controversies surrounding Yucca Mountain and what to do with spent nuclear fuel.  It is likely that proposals for reprocessing spent fuel will come before the NRC during his term.

The NRC also has pending before it more than two dozen applications for licenses for new nuclear plants. Of equal importance is how he will lead the agency in review of license renewal for current plants including Indian Point and Vermont Yankee. 

Point man for opposition to Yucca Mountain

The Las Vegas Sun reported that while serving as as science adviser to Sen Harry Reid, he was the point man for Reid's strident opposition to the Yucca Mountain project. He also worked on appropriations issues for Reid.

Reid swears in JaczkoHe remains linked with the Senate majority leader. In  April 2008 Reid swore in Jaczko (left) when the former aide was given a second term on the NRC.

Jaczko has aligned himself with the views of anti-nuclear green groups who raise a whole series of arguments against expansion of nuclear energy as a response to global warming. 

Before going to work for Sen. Reid, Jaczko worked for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) who is a determined opponent of nuclear energy.  Most recently, Markey attacked the NRC over its refusal to reclassify depleted uranium from enrichment plants.  His intent was to impose more stringent and expensive regulatrory limits on disposal practices.

Jaczko also sided with groups that wanted the NRC to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the threat of a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant. The issue eventually came before the federal courts which threw out the case in the instance of license renewal for Oyster Creek in New Jersey.  Jaczko voted against license renewal for Oyster Creek. However, the other NRC commissioners voted for license renewal.

He'll be with us for a while

Jaczko's term as commission expires June 30. 2013. NRC spokeswoman Beth Hayden told theLas Vegas Sun "the agency chairman serves at the pleasure of the president, and does not require additional Senate confirmation."

Jaczko is a native of upstate New York and earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He does not have any hands-on experience with a utility in the nuclear industry.

Current NRC Chairman Dale Klein's term as commissioner runs until June 30, 2011. According to reports in the trade press, Klein has expressed an interest in continuing to serve out his term. The NRC also has a vacant seat on the commission.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Four projects in lead for nuclear loan guarantees

A fifth is a “runner up”

blue_ribbonThe Department of Energy (DOE) has finally produced a short list of new reactor projects that will likely be eligible for billions in loan guarantees. The federal insurance is paid for by the applicants. It does not guarantee funding for the projects, and only covers 80% of the costs.

No federal funds are expended except in the case of default. The operative principle is that by picking the best projects for eligibility for the loan guarantees the agency is also taking on very little risk that taxpayers will ever have to cover a default.

According to a report by Reuters on May 10 DOE selected projects for final due diligence and negotiations that may lead to a commitment for a conditional loan guarantee. There is $16 billion in federal coverage available, but increases in the cost of steel and concrete since the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was enacted could reduce the number of plants getting the coverage from four to three.

The agency has not formally identified the short-list firms, but Reuters reported that officials at a Texas nuclear project, one in Maryland and one in South Carolina confirmed earlier this year that they were among the five finalists for DOE loan backing.

Those projects included NRG Energy's (NYSE:NRG) twin Toshiba/GE-Hitachi ABWR expansion at the South Texas Project in Texas; Unistar/Constellation Energy's (NYSE:CEG) Calvert Cliffs 3 Areva EPR in Maryland; and SCANA Corp's (NYSE:SCG) twin AP-1000 expansion at the Summer station in South Carolina in conjunction with state-owned utility Santee Cooper. Also believed to be on DOE's short-list is Southern Co's (NYSE:SO) twin AP1000 reactor expansion at the Vogtle nuclear station in Georgia.

A fifth project, Luminant’s Comanche Peak project in Texas, which calls for two Mitsubishi 1,700 MW reactors, is listed as a “first alternate” in case one of the final four were to fail DOE’s due diligence process.

When DOE first announced the loan guarantees, it received a total of $122 billion in applications for $188 billion worth of projects. The overwhelming response sends a clear message from the industry to Congress that the current program falls way short of the nation’s needs for new nuclear power plants.

New Reactors by Mfg map

Second round of projects starts to form

The projects included in the first round of applications represent the entire pool of COL license applications now on file at the NRC. While the individual projects within this group sort out their financial destiny, a second round of projects has begun to emerge.

For instance, Florida Power & Light has committed to filing a COL for two AP1000 reactors in 2010. That state allows the utility to allocate construction costs to the rate base as the plant is being built.

Despite its setback with the legislature this year, Ameren has two more sessions with the statehouse until the NRC completes its review of the utility’s license in 2011. If Ameren can convince the legislature to approve the “construction while in progress” bill, which would allow it to recover construction costs while the reactor is being built, then it won’t need loan guarantees.

Other reactors on the NRC expected list of COL applications are in various stages of development.

Nuclear reactor for Colorado?

Even further out is a project that could see daylight toward the end of the next decade. The Denver Post reported May 10 Xcel Energy (NYSE:XEL) would like the option to build nuclear power plants in Colorado after 2020. However, the utility knows it is up against a considerable array of opponents who favor wind and solar power and energy conservation measures.

Denver Front Range

"There's a negative attitude in the state (about nuclear power), something we need to turn around," Xcel chairman and chief executive Dick Kelly said during a panel at a Denver energy conference.

Power needs for Colorado’s Front Range, which now stretches from Ft. Collins in the North to Colorado Springs in the South, continue to grow despite the current economic downturn.

"The demand for power is not going away — individuals are buying plasma televisions, businesses are growing and using more power," Kelly said. "We have to come up with a solution."

Interestingly, the "green voice" at the meeting came from a Department of Energy national laboratory perhaps representing a policy line from the new Obama administration.

"We have to deal with waste and nonproliferation to make sure nuclear materials aren't used as a terrorist threat, and only then sign up for nuclear as part of our energy mix," said Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Colorado's only prior experience with nuclear energy, the Ft. St. Vrain plant, ended as a commercial failure in 1989. The reactor was decommissioned and the spent fuel remains stored at that site north of Denver.

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