Entergy Corp. reportedly won’t pursue new nuclear builds in the U.S. Southeast because of lower demand seen after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, the recession, and abundant but unused independent power generation in the region, the company’s CEO J. Wayne Leonard told reporters at this week’s Edison Electric Institute financial conference.

"[Nuclear new builds are] not off the table, but the economics are really not supportive and not likely to be supportive in the near future," Reuters reported Leonard as saying on Tuesday. “There’s no need to embark on the riskiest piece of the business.”

At the end of last year, Entergy Nuclear asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend reviews for potential projects at its nuclear sites at Grand Gulf, near Port Gibson, Miss., and River Bend, near St. Francisville, La.—even though Louisiana and Mississippi have passed legislation offering cost-recovery incentives to build the new reactors.

The company, the second-largest nuclear power generator in the U.S., had then said it had made the decision after “unsuccessful attempts to come to mutually acceptable business terms” with GE-Hitachi for its Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor.

On Tuesday, Leonard said that the company would continue to study opportunities for new nuclear opportunities “sometime down the road,” Reuters reported.
Entergy’s concern about power demand uncertainty was echoed by several other utility executives at the Edison Electric Institute financial conference. Some said industrial sales had stabilized, while others were less positive about a dawning recovery. Analysts predicted that 2010 was going to be difficult for utilities because of demand uncertainties.

The forum (webcasts of all presentations are available) is designed to engage senior executives from investor-owned utilities, as well as financial analysts, portfolio managers, rating agencies, investment bankers, and other interested parties who want to meet and explore industry issues and competitive strategies.

Sources: Entergy, Reuters, POWERnews, Edison Electric Institute