On Monday NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG) and South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) filed the first application for a Combined Construction and Operating License (COLA) with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)in nearly 30 years. NRG proposes to build and operate two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project (STP) nuclear power station site. The total rated capacity of the new units, STP 3 and 4, will equal or exceed 2,700 megawatts (MWs).
NRG has chosen Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) technology for the new units to be built at the STP site. The 12,220-acre site and 7,000-acre cooling reservoir were originally designed for four units. The two new units will be built adjacent to the currently operating STP units 1 and 2. ABWR technology is certified by the NRC and has an impressive construction and operational track record. This includes setting world records for construction time and bringing the units in on budget.
Four ABWR units have been successfully commissioned in Japan, with another three units under construction in Taiwan and Japan. The Tokyo Electric Power Company, Inc. has more than a decade of experience in ABWR operations and has provided their expertise to supporting STP’s planned two-unit expansion.
In June 2006, NRG filed its letter of intent to submit an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct STP units 3 and 4. STPNOC, together with a contracting team successfully led by GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GE-H) and Bechtel, has prepared the COLA for STP units 3 and 4 in just over one year for submittal to the NRC.
With the COLA submitted, the NRC begins an estimated two-month acceptance review process. It is then anticipated that the NRC could take up to 42 months for its detailed review process including staff discovery, site visits, company responses, hearings and NRC Environmental Impact Statements. Assuming this schedule, NRG would hope to receive its license approval and begin construction in 2010. With this time frame, STP unit 3 should come on line in 2014 and unit 4 in 2015.
The U.S. Department of Energy projects that the United States will need 40 percent more electricity by 2030. STP 3 and 4 will help meet this growing demand without increasing U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, 35 new nuclear power plants are needed in the next 40 years to keep pace with our escalating energy demand. (I assume in addition to many coal fired plants)
This is probably the first of many applications to be submitted; several companies have already submitted their intent to construct units. They were all probably waiting for someone else to submit the first application. What is surprising to me is the short time period, about 8 years, between submitting their letter of intent and the scheduled start up date for the first unit. This may have been brought about by the NRC's new streamlined procedure where the plant design has already been approved and only the site approval, which in this case has already been approved, and a more detailed operating license need approval. Of course delays can be anticipated.
A satisfactory answer for waste disposal from nuclear plants has not been found. Waste can be stored on site and in depositories for the next few hundred years, but that is not a solution. Thorium powered plants and fusion plants are more acceptable. Thorium has no backing in the U.S. and fusion technology is probably a hundred years away. It will take a major movement by organized environmentalists to get the thorium movement going. For the most they have now indicated that nuclear power is better than coal power.
It is too bad that conservation and renewable energy cannot fill the need for more power. People, in the U.S., are not inclined to conserve, even at costs signifcantly higher than they are today. Renewable energy simply cannot ramp up production fast enough to meet but a small part of our power needs in the next 25 years.
Until CO2 sequesteration is demonstrated coal fired power plants are going to face a significant opposition from most people, leaving nuclear as the lesser of the two evils. I would like someone, like AEP, to take the lead on building a plant with CO2 sequesteration, so we do not have to wait for FutureGen.