Nuclear plants running into snags in application process
2 companies slow their application process so they can address issues

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Dallas Morning News

Nearly every U.S. power company applying to operate new nuclear power reactors faces delays or snags in the application process.

Two power companies planning reactors in Texas, Energy Future Holdings and NRG Energy, have slowed down the application process. One problem is getting detailed information from equipment vendors when regulators ask for it.

So far, the delays appear to be minor, and they might not change the date when the companies will turn on the reactors and pump out thousands of megawatt-hours of cheap electricity.

"Overall, it would be reasonable to say that the projected schedules that utilities are presenting for attempting to bring new reactors online in the 2014, 2015 timeframe are still in the realm of possibility," said Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Scott Burnell.

"Whether or not that remains the case depends on when the information we need becomes available," Mr. Burnell said.

He said every applicant so far has run into one issue or another.

NRG Energy last year filed the first application in decades for a new reactor operating license from the NRC. Since then, the NRC has accepted three other applications and anticipates 15 more this year.

The commission prepared for the onslaught by creating a new, streamlined process for reviewing the applications.

The commission will certify some standard reactor designs.

A company that chooses one of those standard designs -- and sticks to it -- will go through a shorter process that will be focused on the specific site for the reactor.

NRG Energy suspended its application process for two new reactors at the South Texas Plant. The NRC reviewers sought specific design information that NRG couldn't provide until it finishes negotiations with its equipment vendors.

NRG spokesman Dave Knox said the suspension probably won't delay building the reactors. The New Jersey power company expects to begin operations in 2014 or 2015.

Also last month, Energy Future Holdings told the NRC it would delay filing its application until September. It originally planned to file in July.

The company's Luminant generation business unit is planning two new reactors at the Comanche Peak plant near Glen Rose to go online between 2015 and 2020.

The company said in a letter to regulators it had reassessed the timing "in light of the lessons learned" from other applicants.

Meanwhile, Luminant's equipment vendor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, applied for its own, separate design certification for a nuclear plant design. It will take about three years to get the certification.

A third company that is considering building a reactor in Texas, Exelon Corp., said it isn't far enough along in the process to experience any delays. Spokesman Craig Nesbit said the company will probably file its application around September.

At stake is how quickly power companies may build nuclear plants, while still meeting the NRC's requirements to ensure safe operations. (Some people say nuclear plants are never safe because they create nuclear waste.)

The power companies want to build reactors to pump out massive amounts of cheap power in time to meet Americans' growing appetite for juice.

And if Congress limits greenhouse gas emissions next year, as many observers expect, nuclear plants could become even more critical to power companies.

Reactors don't emit carbon dioxide when operating.

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