New Nuclear Plants Are on the Horizon

Most of the big utilities, with an eye to ensuring a good mix of future generation resources, have a new nuclear plant in development. Even though federal loan guarantees are slow to materialize and financing these multi-billion-dollar projects has become a bet-the-company investment, the NRC has more than 40 applications from generators that continue to believe in the future of nuclear power.

New nuclear power plants may be the solution to diversifying the fuel mix used in U.S. power generation and providing affordable clean energy. Currently, nuclear generation supplies about 20% of America’s electricity. Although nuclear plants are more expensive to build than coal plants (taking into account the costs of licensing, decommissioning, and waste disposal), nuclear fuel is half the price of coal, so the plants’ total production costs are about the same. Of course, nuclear plants emit no CO 2 and could help the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Given the length of the early site permitting and COL processes, the earliest construction date for any of the proposed projects is expected to be 2012.

Although the Energy Policy Act of 2005 included tax incentives and loan guarantees for up to 6,000 MW of new nuclear capacity, little has been offered by the current administration to encourage development of new nuclear generation. The most substantive forward move to date has been the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) streamlining the lengthy processes for permitting and licensing new reactors by creating a new system for issuing early site permits and combined construction and operating licenses (COLs) and providing advance approval of reactor designs.

Plenty of Plants in the Queue

So far, the NRC has received 22 applications, which, if approved, would add 33 new nuclear power generating units across the U.S. Overall, applications received to date represent 44,000 MW and more than $300 billion of investment if all were built. This total capacity includes two projects that have fallen by the wayside: Ameren Corp. cancelled plans for a 1,600-MW addition at the Callaway Nuclear Station, and Entergy Corp. has placed plans to add 1,550 MW to the company’s River Bend Station on indefinite hold.

Apart from new nuclear generating units being proposed, Tennessee Valley Authority is completing the 1,220-MW Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee. Completion of this project is scheduled for 2012.

Overall, Industrial Info Resources has identified 39 new nuclear generating units, capable of producing 55,000 MW, that have been proposed across the U.S. This total includes the previously mentioned reactors, for which applications have been submitted.

Of the projects under review by the NRC, seven (for a total of 14 units) are planning to use Westinghouse Electric Co.’s AP1000 two-loop pressurized water reactor, including Duke Energy’s William Lee Nuclear Station in South Carolina and FPL Group’s Turkey Point project in Florida. So far, six of the projects under review are proposing to use one of two reactors designed by General Electric Co., including the two units proposed at NRG Energy Inc.’s South Texas Nuclear Station, which will use Advanced Boiling Water Reactors, and five units that are proposing to use GE’s Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor. Six other projects (six units) are plan to use AREVA NP’s European Pressurized Reactor, and one project (two units) is proposing the use of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ US-APWR design.

Of the 55,000 MW of nuclear capacity being proposed in the U.S., 23 generating units and 33,000 MW of capacity are expansions to existing stations, while 16 units and 22,000 MW are planned as part of greenfield power stations. Given the length of the early site permitting and COL processes, the earliest construction date for any of the proposed projects is expected to be 2012. Many of these are anticipated to fall victim to financing hurdles, not-in-my-back yard activity, and permitting constraints.

Until timetables are firmed up and financing issues are resolved, the U.S. nuclear industry will have to be satisfied with incremental uprates to exising plant capacities. Currently, 12 such upgrade projects are in the works, representing over $600 million in capital expenditures.

Although the amount of new nuclear power generation that actually moves forward in the U.S. remains to be seen, it seems likely that building a significant number of new units in the next two decades will be necessary to meet increased demand.

—Britt Burt (bburt@industrialinfo.com) is vice president, power industry for Industrial Info Resources. IIR (www.industrialinfo.com) is a leading provider of global market intelligence specializing in the industrial process, heavy manufacturing, and energy-related markets.