ESP application for new Texan plant

26 March 2010

Exelon has submitted an application to the US nuclear regulator for an early site permit (ESP) for the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Victoria County, Texas. It has also formally withdrawn its application for a combined construction and operating licence (COL) for the proposed plant.


Exelon announced in July 2009 that it had decided to indefinitely postpone plans to build new reactors and would instead pursue power uprates for its existing plants. The decision was made due to "uncertainties in the domestic economy, lowered expectations of future electricity demand and related economic considerations." The company said at that time that it planned to withdraw its COL application for the Victoria plant, but would instead seek an ESP for the site to keep the option of constructing the plant open. Unlike a COL, an ESP does not authorize construction of a new plant.


By not following through on a COL and opting for an ESP instead, Exelon has given itself up to 20 years to finish off the project. "We are not leaving Victoria," said Exelon's Thomas O'Neill in July. "But today's economic realities compel us to defer any decision on construction for a while."


Exelon, through its wholly-owned Exelon Nuclear Texas Holdings LLC subsidiary, has now filed its ESP application with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for an 11,500-acre (4650-hectare) site 13 miles (21 kilometres) south of the City of Victoria.


In a statement, Exelon noted that much of the data gathering and analysis contained in the ESP application had been performed for the COL application filed in 2008. The company had originally planned to build two GE-Hitachi ESBWR reactors at the greenfield site, but that design was dropped in November 2008 and swapped for GE-Hitachi's ABWR instead.


Under the ESP process, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission undertakes an evaluation of site safety, environmental impact and emergency planning regarding a proposed nuclear plant. By issuing an ESP for a specific site, the NRC is certifying that the site satisfies the criteria in those evaluation areas. If the company later chooses to pursue construction, the ESP becomes part of the COL application, which requires a separate review and approval. The NRC's review of the ESP application is expected to take three to four years.


The NRC said that it will conduct a public meeting in Victoria, Texas, on 15 April to discuss how the agency will review Exelon's ESP application for the Victoria County site. David Matthews, director of the NRC's new reactor licensing division, said: "We've spoken before with residents in and around Victoria regarding Exelon’s activities, and we're coming back to explain what's now being proposed and how we’ll review the application."


If approved, the ESP would effectively reserve the property for new nuclear construction for up to 20 years with the possibility of renewal for another 20 years. If a decision to build is eventually made, Exelon would be required to re-apply for a COL at that time.


Marilyn Kray, Exelon's vice president for nuclear project development, commented: "A decision whether to build in Victoria County will be made years in the future." She added, "The ESP allows us to establish the suitability of the site, which lessens the amount of work to do should we later decide to pursue a licence."


The Victoria County application is Exelon's second ESP submittal. In 2007, the company received an ESP for land adjacent to its existing Clinton nuclear power plant in Illinois, one of its ten operating plants.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News