Once upon a time in the Fall of 2007 the excitement in south Texas was uncontainable over the “first mover” license application by NRG for two new 1300 MW ABWR nuclear reactors. It was the opening bell, so to speak, in the nuclear renaissance which would eventually encompass over two dozen similar applications from US nuclear utilities to the NRC for combined construction and operating licenses.
But times change, and with the rapid drop in the price of natural gas, the so-called renaissance evaporated like morning fog in the hot Texas sun.
Yet, the South Texas Project effort, with a few organizational changes, has prevailed and made progress towards the license first applied for now over eight years ago. The NRC has completed its Final Safety Evaluation Report for the Combined License (COL) for the proposed South Texas Project (STP) Units 3 & 4.
The report is a major milestone in the road towards actually building the units assuming financing becomes available. The NRC SER concludes there are no safety aspects that would stand in the way of the NRC issuing licenses for construction and operation of the two new reactors at a site near Bay City, Texas.
The next step in the process is a mandatory hearing expected to take place later this year. The purpose of the hearing is to determine whether the staff review supports the findings necessary to issue the licenses. The commission will vote, following the hearing, on whether to authorize the staff to issue the licenses.
The lead applicant is Nuclear Innovation North America, LLC, (NINA) which was founded in 2008 and is based in New York, New York. It is a subsidiary of NRG Energy, Inc. (NRG:NYSE)
The NRC certified the 1300 MW ABWR design in 1997. Toshiba owns a 10% stake in the project. In April 2014 the NRC ruled that this ownership did not violate the the foreign ownership restrictions of the Atomic Energy Act.
The fact that the licenses are likely to be issued does not mean the company will break ground immediately. When NRG first started the project, it ran into stiff resistance from Texas municipal electric utilities in terms of getting them to sign on to cover the costs of construction by taking an equity position in the project.
In an April 3, 2015 report in the Houston Chronicle, a company spokesman said the firm has “shelved” plans to finance the expansion of the STP facility from two units to four.
“The economics of new nuclear just don’t permit the construction of those units today,” NRG spokesman David Knox said.
The newspaper reported that although NRG shelved plans to help fund two additional units at the facility, it hasn’t halted the ongoing process of requesting permits for them, since it wants to allow the plant to seek funding from external investors.
Because NINA is privately held as a subsidiary of NRG, it is unlikely any ongoing negotiations for investments in the project would be made public until all the funding necessary to build the reactors is in place.
South Texas Project Units 1 & 2 are PWRs built in 1988 and 1989 respectively. License renewal is underway for both units. The current licenses run out in 2027 and 2028.
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