Key developments for three US projects

12 February 2009

US nuclear new build is drawing nearer with key developments in the preconstruction process for the new units at VC Summer, Vogtle and South Texas Project.

VC Summer NPP
VC Summer plant - two more soon?
(Image: Scana)


The Public Service Commission of South Carolina (PSC) has unanimously approved South Carolina Electric & Gas Company's (SCE&G) plans to build two new Westinghouse AP1000s at its existing VC Summer site in the state. PSC approval must be secured before any construction can start. The South Carolina PSC ruling was made in the wake of a three week public hearing held in December 2008, and determines that the proposal to build the plant is "prudent", as well as allowing the company to recover some of the financing costs while the plant is under construction rather than having to wait until it is in operation.

Indeed, according to the PSC directive, the new units will be sorely needed. "The company's [SCE&G's] established reserve margin target is 12% to 18% of forecasted peak demand, and … forecast shows that the company's reserve margin will decline to 2% by 2016 and -3.9% by 2019, even in the face of the current economic downturn," it said.

SCE&G president and COO Kevin Marsh greeted the PSC ruling as a key milestone for the project, and noted that being able to pay financing costs while the plant is under construction should lower the overall cost of building the new units by about $1 billion, saving customers an estimated $4 billion in electricity rates over the plant's lifetime.

The new units will be jointly owned by Scana subsidiary SCE&G and Santee Cooper, and operated by SCE&G, and will join the existing 966 MWe unit at the site. Construction will not be able to begin until the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) grants a combined construction and operating licence (COL), which SCE&G estimates could be issued in 2011. The company plans to bring the first of the new units online in 2016, with the second in 2019.

2012 COL for South Texas?

NRG Energy says it expects to receive a COL for two new reactors at the South Texas Project in 2012, after receiving NRC's review schedule for its application. With the permitting schedule established, the company says, it can now move to complete the detailed design and construction schedules from pouring first concrete to fuel load and startup.

South Texas Project was the first COL application to be submitted to the NRC, in September 2007. Toshiba has been selected as the prime contractor to build the two ABWR units at the site, and Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA) - the nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy, Inc. and Toshiba Corporation - has submitted an application for a federal loan guarantee for the project. Steve Winn, NINA president and CEO, described the company as "very comfortable" with its prospects in the loan guarantee process. "With the best site for expansion, a top-notch nuclear operating company, a proven design and now, this schedule in hand, we are moving toward achieving firm, fixed pricing, set delivery dates and performance guarantees to bring these two units online on time and on budget," he said.

Vogtle ESP progress

Meanwhile, the NRC has issued the final safety evaluation and report for a request for an Early Site Permit (ESP) and limited work authorization for Southern Nuclear's Vogtle site in Georgia. An ESP provides in-principle approval of a site for nuclear plant construction on environmental, safety and nuclear grounds, enabling a would-be nuclear plant builder to address site-related issues and can allow some limited construction work to begin before a full COL is granted.

A final decision on the Vogtle ESP is expected by the end of 2009 after a hearing by the US Atomic Safety and Licensing Board is completed. Southern Nuclear submitted a COL application for two AP1000s at the site in March 2008.