Project by project update: COL licences ‘under review’28 January 2015
Ed Kee looks at the status of the eight US reactor projects that NRC says have their COL licences under review.
Today, only five reactors are under construction in the US. Four of these reactors (the Vogtle and Summer projects) use the same Westinghouse AP1000 standard reactor design. The fifth is a 1970s reactor design at Watts Bar 2, where a project put on hold decades ago is being completed. This is far short of the number of new nuclear projects expected in 2005.
Aside from these projects, no new US nuclear projects are expected to start construction in the next decade or longer. Many of the NRC applications have been suspended or withdrawn, but most recent US NRC COL application status table shows that there are eight applications that are under review.
A discussion of these eight projects shows that they are unlikely to start construction soon. Most of these applications are proceeding as a means of keeping the option to build alive.
- Bell Bend (US EPR) - Despite the 'under review' status, Bell Bend LLC requested that the NRC withhold the safety review until late 2015. The project sponsor, Pennsylvania Power & Light (PPL), is a company with regulated and unregulated subsidiaries. The Bell Bend nuclear project would be a part of the competitive PPL Energy Supply subsidiary competing in the PJM electricity market. The project web site [www.bellbend.com] states that PPL has no timetable for making a final decision to proceed. "A final decision depends on getting an NRC licence to build and operate the plant, obtaining a federal loan guarantee, attracting additional investors, and on PPL's view of power market fundamentals at that time."
- Calvert Cliffs unit 3 (US EPR) - The Unistar consortium applied for a DOE loan guarantee for this unit, but the high subsidy fee led to the abandonment of the application in 2010. EDF took ownership of Unistar and Constellation Energy was acquired by Exelon. The US NRC ruled in 2012 that it would not issue a licence to the Calvert Cliffs 3 project due to foreign ownership rules. Unistar is seeking a US utility partner for the project, but has not yet found one. The Calvert Cliffs 3 project is located in the PJM electricity market, and its lack of affiliation with a load-serving electric utility means that it would be a pure merchant nuclear project that relies on market sales of energy and capacity.
- South Texas Project units 3&4 (ABWR) - In 2010, San Antonio municipal utility CPS Energy, a half owner of the project, withdrew from the project. The following year, the other major project sponsor, NRG Energy, withdrew financial support for the project. Toshiba, the reactor vendor has been funding NRC licence activities since then, leading the NRC to raise issues about foreign ownership or control of the project. Toshiba succeeded in arguing that the US development company Nuclear Innovations North America (NINA) was not subject to foreign control. This project would be a pure merchant nuclear project operating in the ERCOT electricity market.
- Fermi unit 3 (ESBWR) - Detroit Edison participates in the energy market through MISO and owns generation assets that are regulated by the state. DTE Energy has stated that this project will proceed only if there is a price on carbon, strong legislative support in Michigan and DOE loan guarantees. The company is pursuing the NRC licence application in order to preserve the option to build the unit at some point in the future, but has not committed to build the plant.
- Levy County units 1&2 (AP1000) - In August 2013, Duke cancelled the engineering-and-construction contract for this plant. Duke will continue to pursue the NRC licence, but has no current plans to build this plant.
- North Anna unit 3 (ESBWR) - Dominion Energy is a regulated utility with generation assets that also participates in the PJM electricity market. Dominion must obtain a favourable outcome in the 2015 (or some future) IRP process required by the Virginia state utility regulator to gain approval for the North Anna new-build project. The Virginia State utility regulator has stated that it wants Dominion to focus on licence renewal for the existing North Anna and Surry nuclear power plants, an option with lower cost and risk than the new North Anna nuclear power plant.
- Turkey Point units 6&7 (AP1000) - Florida Power & Light (FP&L), the project sponsor of the Turkey Point 6&7 units, is a regulated utility in Florida. FP&L is likely to move ahead with these units only if favourable regulatory treatment by the Florida Public Utility Commission is obtained. A 2010 rate increase request from FP&L was rejected by state utility regulators, after which FP&L announced that it would stop work on the Turkey Point 6&7 project. The project would proceed only if Florida state utility regulators approve it, but the timing of this is uncertain.
- William States Lee III Units 1&2 (AP1000) - Duke's generation expansion plan calls for these units to start commercial operation in 2024 and 2026. Duke is pursuing the NRC COL application to keep the option open, but has not formally committed to build these units.
About the author
Edward D. Kee is the owner and principal consultant at Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG) and is an Affiliated Expert with NERA Economic Consulting; he is based in Washington DC.