Driving for a licence27 July 2005
A number of utilities, acting independently or within consortia, are working on licence applications that could lead to the first new US nuclear plants in decades. By Thecla Fabian
In late September, NuStart Energy, a consortium of nine utilities and two reactor suppliers, will pick two sites from a field of six possible sites to use in licence applications to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for construction of a new reactor in the USA. If either or both of the reactors are built, they will be the first in the USA in more than 30 years.
NuStart is the largest of three US consortia looking at testing a new NRC process that will allow a potential licensee to apply for a combined construction and operating licence (COL), instead of the old system in which plant operation was licensed at the end of construction. The US Department of Energy (DoE) is providing matching funds for the licence application under the Nuclear Power 2010 (NP2010) programme.
NUSTART, TVA APPLICATIONS
The 11-member NuStart consortium includes nine utilities and the two reactor vendors.
The utility members are:
- Constellation Energy, based in Baltimore, Maryland.
- Duke Energy, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- EdF International North America, based in Washington, DC.
- Entergy Nuclear, based in Jackson, Mississippi (a subsidiary of New Orleans, Louisiana-based Entergy).
- Exelon, based in Chicago, Illinois.
- FPL, based in Juno Beach, Florida.
- Progress Energy, based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Southern Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
- GE Energy, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Westinghouse Electric, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
NuStart plans to submit both licence applications in 2008. Its role will end with the issuance of the licences. Once NRC issues the licences, the utilities selected for the COL test, either alone or in partnership with other utilities, will have to decide whether to move ahead with construction. They would then take over the licences from NuStart in order to build and operate the plants.
Construction could start as early as 2010, with at least one plant operating by 2014, according to NuStart.
The licensing process for both reactors is expected to cost about $520
million. Also in May, NuStart and the DoE signed a 50:50 cost-sharing agreement to complete the detailed engineering work needed for COL applications for the two reactors.
Five of the sites are owned by NuStart members, and four have operating reactors already on site: Entergy’s Grand Gulf in Mississippi and River Bend in Louisiana – both BWRs; and Constellation Energy’s Calvert Cliffs in Maryland, a PWR, and Nine Mile Point in New York, a BWR.
Entergy and Constellation are among the largest US nuclear plant operators, but NuStart did not select any sites belonging to the biggest US nuclear operator, also a NuStart member: Exelon.
The other two sites picked are government controlled. One is the DoE’s Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina. The other is the site of the unfinished two-unit Bellefonte reactor in Alabama, which belongs to TVA, an agency of the federal government. Both uncompleted Bellefonte units were PWRs. As well as being a member of NuStart, TVA heads its own NP2010 consortium to look at reusing the Bellefonte site. The TVA-led consortium – which includes Toshiba, GE, Bechtel, USEC and Global Nuclear Fuel America – is looking at building a GE Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) at Bellefonte. TVA will decide this autumn whether to proceed with the ABWR through its own consortium, or to proceed with NuStart if it is selected as one of the two sites for a COL.
Although the existence of an operating PWR or BWR does not oblige NuStart to select the same type of advanced reactor for that site, industry observers have told NEI that this is the most likely course of action: the AP1000 COL will involve a site that already has a PWR and the ESBWR COL will involve a site with a BWR. This would allow for some economies of scale and pooling of resources for operations and maintenance. The two government sites could host either type of reactor since the Bellefonte plant was stopped at an early stage.
NuStart expects each COL will be for a plant capable of producing between 1200 and 1600MWe, with a total construction cost of $1.5-2 billion.
DOMINION SWITCHES VENDORS
A third consortium, led by Dominion, proposes to get a COL for a new reactor on the site of Dominion’s currently operating two-unit North Anna PWR plant, located about 40 miles from Richmond, Virginia. The Dominion-led consortium, which also includes GE and Bechtel, proposes to submit a COL for a GE ESBWR.
The initial Dominion-led consortium included AECL Technologies, the US subsidiary of AECL, and was geared toward testing the feasibility of licensing the Canadian-designed ACR-700 in the USA. However, on 14 January 2005, Dominion announced that it was dissolving its partnership with AECL Technologies and would shift to a partnership with GE geared towards a COL for an ESBWR.
At that time, Dominion spokesman Rick Zuercher said that the company’s main concern was how long the NRC would take to license a Canadian-designed reactor based on the Candu, even one that incorporated significant light water reactor features. Because no Candu had ever been licensed in the USA, the NRC indicated that there were significant issues to be resolved, Zuercher said.
COMMUNITIES PLEDGE SUPPORT
Several local areas have passed resolutions supporting selection of their communities for a new build plant.
The Oswego, New York, town council passed a resolution 29 March supporting construction of a new plant on the Nine Mile Point site, and pledging to work cooperatively with “NuStart Energy, or any of their partners and affiliates, in any way we can to assist in the site selection process.”
Both the city of Port Gibson, Mississippi, and Claiborne County, Mississippi, which hosts the Grand Gulf plant, passed resolutions of support for Entergy’s early site permit application (which will become part of the COL if NuStart picks that site) for a new reactor at that site.
The Port Gibson resolution noted that the $8 million in annual property taxes paid by the currently operating Grand Gulf plant “makes it possible for all Claiborne County residents to enjoy among the lowest auto licence tags and homeowner property taxes in the state of Mississippi and far below those of citizens in neighbouring counties.” The city of Port Gibson receives $202,000 of this amount every year. The resolution also acknowledged that the new plant would bring “thousands of new jobs” to the area.
Likewise, a similar resolution passed by the Claiborne County board of supervisors acknowledged the value of property taxes from the plant and the creation of new jobs, and stated: “Nuclear energy is not seen as harmful to the environment or to the residents of Claiborne County.”
On 11 July, two Alabama jurisdictions also weighed in. The Scottsboro city council and the Jackson county commission each passed a resolution supporting TVA in construction of a new reactor at the Bellefonte site, whether through the TVA-led consortium or through NuStart.
OUTSIDE THE CONSORTIA
Ironically, another non-US-origin reactor is in the running to become one of the first new builds in the USA, though outside of the DoE’s NP2010 process: a US version of Framatome ANP’s European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR).
Framatome ANP is in pre-application discussions with the NRC over design certification for a re-tooled EPR that will meet all US standards without the need for exemptions. Framatome ANP met with the NRC staff 24 March to discuss the pre-application review of the EPR in support of a planned 2007 design certification application.
Framatome ANP’s US design team, headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia, is engaged in a multi-million dollar effort to produce a US version of the EPR that will meet all codes, standards, regulatory and utility market requirements, Framatome ANP officials told the NRC in March. However, the company does hope to use some information and experience from its current EPR construction in Finland and a planned unit in France to support US design certification.
Two US utilities have formally expressed interest in the EPR, although Framatome ANP is conducting discussions with others. “We’re talking to everybody,” Framatome spokesman Tommy Smith told NEI.
Constellation Energy, also a member of the NuStart consortium, formally notified the NRC on 4 May of its interest in the EPR and its support for US design certification. “After reviewing the general characteristics of the EPR evolutionary design,” Constellation “agreed to work together with Framatome ANP to support licensing the EPR for potential future construction in the US” Michael Wallace, president of Constellation Generation Group, said in his letter to the NRC.
Constellation views the EPR “as a viable option to meet our future forecast requirements,” and has therefore “committed to participate with
Framatome ANP in support of their pre-application submittals, and, as appropriate for a potential future owner, facilitate the licensing process.”
Framatome ANP senior vice president for new plant deployment in North America Ray Ganthner called Constellation’s support “important to the US licensing process.”
Framatome ANP’s goal “is to complete the pre-application process, submit an application for design certification, and build the first EPR in the USA by the middle of the next decade,” Ganthner said.
In March, Duke Power informed the NRC that the EPR was one of three reactor designs it was considering for a COL application for a new reactor in its service territory. Duke conducted a study of the scope, schedule and costs for preparing a COL and is preparing to award its first pre-application contracts.
Neither Constellation nor Duke has yet made a final decision to proceed with construction of a new plant.
Most of the major utility decisions will come after a congressional conference committee forges a final version of the energy bill, and it goes to the White House for signing, industry sources have told NEI. One source called the energy bill a “tipping point” that will provide regulatory certainty, possible risk insurance for the first few plants, and other incentives. Industry is “poised” to act as soon as the bill is final, he said.
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