Exelon to seek license for nuclear power plant in Victoria County

The Associated Press
Article Launched: 12/19/2007

VICTORIA, Texas -- Exelon Nuclear has chosen an 11,500-acre site in Victoria County in southeast Texas to pursue the possible construction of a nuclear power plant.

Exelon officials said Tuesday that the company will apply to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission by September 2008 for a combined construction and operating license.

The Warrenville, Ill.-based company expects to spend $23 million on the application process. Officials said submitting the application next year will allow the company to take advantage of tax credits and federal loan guarantees contained in the 2005 Energy Policy Act.

"If Exelon makes this investment in our community, it will give us a chance to reinvent our economy in a way similar to what happened when DuPont came to town in 1952," Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong said. "From a financial and psychological standpoint, this is the biggest opportunity we've had in Victoria County since 1952."

Exelon stressed that it hasn't committed to building the plant, which would sit about 20 miles south of Victoria on U.S. Highway 77. Victoria is located about 100 miles southeast of San Antonio.

The company said the decision will hinge on a solution for disposing of used fuel, public acceptance of a new nuclear plant and assurances the project would be financially successful.

In June, the company said it was studying both the Victoria County site and a site in Matagorda County.

Craig Lambert, Exelon's vice president of engineering for new plant development, said the Victoria site was better suited for a reactor, partly because of its soil composition.

The company said the site would use a man-made freshwater lake for cooling. It has already made arrangements with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority to reserve water for the proposed plant, officials said.

Exelon Nuclear spokesman Craig Nesbit said construction of the plant could generate between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs. After construction, the plant could employ between 700 and 900.

Nesbit said the plant would use a new reactor developed by General Electric known as an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor. The new model, which has never been used before, is touted as smaller and more productive than conventional reactors.

Spokesman Scott Burnett said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still evaluating the new reactors, and the agency has not yet certified them for construction.

Environmentalists said it's difficult to judge Exelon's plans this early in the process, but some observers raised concerns about the difficulty of disposing of nuclear waste, plant safety and the amount of water the project would consume.

"At this time, so little is known about the specifics of Exelon's proposal that it is not possible to evaluate potential impacts on the whooping cranes or other wildlife in the area," said Mina Williams, vice chairwoman of the Coastal Bend Sierra Club.

Thomas S. O'Neill, Exelon Nuclear's vice president of new plant development, said nuclear energy "is safe and clean and has a low operating cost.

"That's why we believe nuclear energy is a key part of Texas' future energy mix -- because of its inherent environmental and energy independence benefits."

Texas is home to two nuclear power plants. The South Texas Project near Bay City is operated by a consortium of energy companies. This month, CPS Energy applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a permit to build two reactors at that site.

The other existing plant is Comanche Creek, about 80 miles southwest of Dallas.

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