It would take an estimated decade and $10 billion to build the plant in Piketon, if all of the needed regulatory approvals can be secured and other factors don't intervene.
And although critics question the cost and safety of nuclear power, officials say they are confident at the start of the process that nuclear energy can be part of a "renaissance" for manufacturing jobs in the state.
"This is a wonderful day for the future of Ohio," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, an advocate of nuclear power. "I know people are a little bit down right now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and part of that light is nuclear power.
Voinovich, Gov. Ted Strickland, Duke Energy Chief Executive Jim Rogers and other executives and dignitaries announced the formation of the new Southern Ohio Clean Energy Park Alliance yesterday at the former uranium-enrichment site on 3,700 acres in Piketon where the plant would be built.
Rogers cautioned that the process is "at the beginning of a very long road." But he also said during a speech in front of the former enrichment plant that it is "the perfect location to take advantage of the nuclear option."
Members of the alliance Duke Energy, the French energy company Areva, UniStar Nuclear Energy, uranium processor USEC and the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative will pursue different roles.
Duke, for example, will take the first step of seeking an early-site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. That would come after an expected 18-month assessment of the location, including a plant feasibility study.
Rogers declined to give a cost estimate for that process but said the alliance is asking the U.S. Department of Energy to allocate stimulus money for it.
Duke, which operates seven reactors at three locations, then would seek a license to allow construction to begin by about 2015 with the plant operational by 2020 or 2021, if all goes according to plan, officials said.
Strickland and other officials stressed the economic impact that the expected 3,000 construction jobs and other spending for the plant would bring to a state and region desperate for new jobs and investment.
The governor also said that Ohio needs to be pursuing nuclear power as part of its energy portfolio and as a response to climate change.
"The time is right, I believe, to put the question of nuclear power squarely on the American energy agenda," said Strickland, who grew up in nearby Scioto County.
Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive of Areva, added in a thick French accent: "I say, 'Let's get to work... and go Buckeyes.'"
Mark Shanahan, Strickland's energy adviser, said Duke, Areva and the other alliance partners have the know-how and nuclear-plant experience to make the project a reality.
"If it's going to happen, this is the right team," he said.
Rogers said he expects the alliance and a consortium of regional companies would pay about 95 percent of the cost to build the plant, but it's too soon to discuss possible subsidies. Strickland said the state has not received any requests yet for help.
Critics of nuclear power say there are cheaper and safer ways to generate electricity than nuclear power, including solar and wind power.
Andrew Feight, a professor at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth and a member of an Energy Department-appointed citizens' advisory board helping oversee the cleanup of the old enrichment site at Piketon, said the nuclear power plant proposal came as a "total surprise to members of the board."
Feight, who stressed that he was speaking as an individual and not as a board member, said that despite the promise of new jobs, he thinks alternative energies are better, cleaner uses for the site. "Our future is not being forwarded by this type of project," he said.
But Rogers and others said that amid uncertainty about the future of coal-fired power plants because of the expected crackdown on the carbon they emit, nuclear power has to be developed to ensure the nation's energy needs can be met.
Lauvergeon said, "Nuclear energy is not the only answer, but there is no answer without nuclear energy."
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who was in Columbus but didn't attend the Piketon event, said the nation has operated commercial nuclear-power plants since the 1950s without a single fatality. And the technology has improved greatly since the partial meltdown in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.
Strickland said he is "not unaware of the dangers of working with nuclear issues" but agreed with Chu that the technology has improved.
"The people of southern Ohio have always answered our nation's call to serve," the governor said in Piketon. "This project provides another opportunity to do so in a way that will revive our local economy, will give us the promise of high-quality jobs in a growing energy sector, and fulfills the federal commitment to redevelop this site."