United States US energy secretary Spencer Abraham announced that the Department of Energy (DoE) has selected three utilities – Virginia-based Dominion Energy, Louisiana-based Entergy, and Illinois-based Exelon – to participate in the early site permit (ESP) process. This will involve joint government/industry projects to evaluate and obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval for sites where new nuclear power plants could be built. These projects will be the first major elements of the DoE’s Nuclear Power 2010 initiative announced in February (see links below).

Abraham commented: “These public-private partnerships are the first step toward seeing that new, safe nuclear plants are built in this country by 2010. By working with these utilities to put potential nuclear plant sites through the rigorous ESP process, we will remove one more barrier to seeing the nuclear option fully revived in the United States.” The department will partner with Dominion Energy, Entergy and Exelon to submit formal applications and to demonstrate the ESP process. All three companies announced that they would seek ESP approvals to enable them to locate advanced technology nuclear plants at sites owned by the utilities and currently hosting commercial nuclear power plants. Dominion Energy will seek approval of an ESP application for the North Anna site in Virginia; Entergy will seek approval of the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi; and Exelon will seek approval of the Clinton site in Illinois. The utilities expect to submit applications by autumn 2003, for NRC approval by the middle of the decade.

The DoE will share the cost of permit application expenses, with each company providing at least 50% of the funding. The government’s total estimated cost-share over a four-year period is approximately $17 million. The department is currently negotiating the exact value of the awards with its utility partners.

The ESP process was established by the NRC in 1989 for utilities to complete the site evaluation element of the process to license a nuclear power plant before the decision is made to build a plant. Once issued, an ESP is valid for up to 20 years and can be used in conjunction with a design certification to seek a construction and operating licence (COL). With such a permit approved, a utility or other applicant can proceed with a licence application to the NRC, providing a far more predictable and streamlined process towards building a new nuclear plant.