In the boldest step yet towards consolidation in the United States nuclear power industry, Chicago based Unicom Corp, parent of Commonwealth Edison, and PECO Energy, parent of Philadelphia Electric Co, have proposed a merger which would create a company owning 20% of US nuclear generating capacity.

The merger requires the approval of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. Both companies expect to complete the regulatory process in about 12 months.

ComEd, already the largest US nuclear operator, owns the two unit Braidwood, Byron, Dresden, LaSalle and Quad Cities plants. PECO owns the two unit Limerick station and shares of Peach Bottom and Salem. PECO has also been seeking to acquire more plants through AmerGen, its venture with British Energy.

ComEd, which until recently had a number of plants on the NRC Watch List, has been concentrating on improving performance and capacity utilisation at its 10-unit fleet. In July the company’s board voted to boost nuclear generating capacity by 325 MW by the end of 2002 through upgrades at Byron and Braidwood. ComEd’s president and chief nuclear officer said at the time that the company “intends to be a major player in the deregulated market place”. He did not rule out future acquisitions.

The new company will be based in Chicago, with generation and power marketing operations based in Philadelphia.

PECO chairman, president and chief executive Corbin McNeill and Unicom chairman, president and chief executive John Rowe will become joint chief executive officers of the new company, alternating some of executive roles for a transition period lasting until 31 December 2003. Rowe will then become sole chairman and chief executive officer with McNeill remaining on the board of directors.

Many industry observers and executives believe consolidation in the nuclear sector will lead eventually to a dozen or so companies running the 103 commercial plants in the the country.