- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Power producer NRG Energy Inc. will submit the first application for a new nuclear reactor in the U.S. in nearly 30 years, the company”s chief executive said yesterday.

Nuclear regulators expect this morning to receive NRG”s application for two new units at its facility in Bay City, Texas, about 90 miles southwest of Houston. It will be the first complete construction and operating license submission the government has processed since before the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

“It”s bold for us as a company, but for energy and the industry, it”s a good step,” said David Crane, NRG”s president and CEO.

Constellation Energy Group Inc. filed a partial application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which expects up to six more requests this year from Duke Energy Corp., Dominion Resources Inc. and others. Constellation”s proposed reactor would be located in Lusby, Md.

Mr. Crane would not say how far NRG will proceed into the 42-month government review process before making a final decision on whether to build the reactors. But he said the company already ordered steel forgings, built exclusively in Japan, that are needed for a new plant.

While NRG and nuclear-power backers expect new reactors to come online by 2015, a March report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service predicted that the process will take closer to 15 years to complete for several reasons, including the government”s new review, testing and approval procedures.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein said the reviews should quicken once the first license for a certain reactor design is approved. Reactor vendors include Toshiba Corp., General Electric Co. and a joint venture of France”s Areva Group and Constellation. NRG selected a GE reactor design already approved by the commission and hired Toshiba to build the two units, which are expected to generate enough power for more than 2 million homes.

If NRG receives government approval by 2010, the company expects the first new reactor to be ready four years later, Mr. Crane said. New plants with similar reactors are being completed in Japan in less than 48 months, he added.

“Nuclear is expensive to build,” noted Calyon Securities analyst Gordon Howald, but after construction, it is “one of the cheapest sources of power generation that”s out there.”

The average cost of nuclear-produced electricity was 1.72 cents per kilowatt hour in 2006, compared with 2.37 cents for coal-fired plants and 6.75 cents for natural-gas plants, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group.

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