Nuclear Reactor Applications Expected

PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY - Federal regulators received the first application in nearly three decades to build a new nuclear reactor, yet another sign that a long-dormant sector of the energy industry is springing back to life.

The applicant, NRG Energy of Princeton, N.J., alerted the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in advance, commission spokesman Scott Burnell said. The company wants to build two new reactors at its South Texas Project in Bay City.

The news has special significance in Pennsylvania: NRG's submission would be the first full, formal request for a construction and operating license since a meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant outside Harrisburg in 1979.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to receive up to six more this year from Duke Energy Corp., Dominion Resources Inc. and others, Burnell said.

That short list does not include PPL Corp. of Allentown, which is considering building a new reactor t its Susquehanna nuclear plant. In June, PPL sent a letter informing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of its tentative plans to build a third reactor at the site, located about 75 miles northwest of the Lehigh Valley in Salem Township, Luzerne County.

The company, however, has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

"We're still in the stage of looking at the options and deciding," PPL spokesman George Lewis said. Energy companies see in nuclear plants an opportunity to affordably meet demand for electricity, which the Energy Information Administration is forecasting will grow by 42 percent by 2030.

High natural gas prices and the prospect of taxes or constraints on greenhouse gases are making gas- or coal-fired plants less attractive. At the same time, political support for nuclear energy is mounting. Indeed, Congress appears likely to remove a major hurdle to nuclear expansion - the immense financial risk. Both the Senate and the House recently passed bills that call for billions o dollars in government loan guarantees for the construction of new plants.

PPL Chief Executive Officer James Miller has characterized loan guarantees as "something we absolutely require." NRG announced last month it had selected reactor designs from Toshiba Corp.

The company wants to start construction on its new reactors, which could generate enough power for more than 2.1 million homes, by 2010. While NRG and other nuclear enthusiasts have predicted new reactors could come online by 2015, a March report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service predicted the process would take closer to 15 years to complete for several reasons, including the government's new review, testing and approval procedures.


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