Regulators: Too much foreign ownership for nuclear expansion

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

By Nolan Hicks, Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission found this week that a foreign company is too heavily involved in plans to build two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project installation.

Under federal law, companies that are owned, controlled or "dominated" by a foreign individual, company or country are barred from holding licenses to operate nuclear reactors. The regulator notified the groups involved of its finding in a letter that it sent Monday afternoon.

"We think it’s encouraging that the NRC is recognizing that this is the law and it needs to remain in effect," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, which has opposed the STP expansion from the beginning.

The matter will now go to a panel of three administrative judges in Washington, D.C., which previously dismissed a series of environmental challenges to the project, said Scott Burnell, a spokesman for the NRC.

"It’s part of the process that we need to proceed on to… to finally get the issue resolved," said Mark McBurnett, chief executive of Nuclear Innovation North America LLC, a joint-venture between NRG Energy and Toshiba Corporation, which has been leading the effort to acquire the licenses from the NRC to build the two reactors.

The project at STP, located in Matagorda County, has been fraught with delays and complications since it first applied for the nuclear licenses in 2007.

City-owned CPS Energy was one of the initial partners in the expansion project, which would have brought the number of reactors at STP to four. However, the utility ended its involvement after its senior management failed to disclose that unofficial estimates that showed the cost of the new reactors had risen dramatically, resulting in a political firestorm.

CPS, however, maintains a 7.625 percent stake in the expansion project.

The effort to add those two reactors at STP took another blow when NRG Energy, which owns 90 percent of NINA, announced that it was withdrawing direct support of the project in 2011, following the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi in Japan. It had hoped that the operator of the Fukashima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, would be a major investor in the expansion.

The remaining 10 percent of NINA is owned by Toshiba Corporation, a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate, which was left to foot the bill for pursuing the licenses from federal regulators after NRG ended its support.

This report includes material from the Express-News archives.


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