updated 3/31/2004 12:59:04 PM ET 2004-03-31T17:59:04

Seven companies have agreed to jointly apply for a license to build a new commercial nuclear power plant, the first new reactor application to be filed in three decades, the companies announced Wednesday.

The five energy companies and two reactor vendors emphasized that none of the companies have made a commitment to actually build a new plant, but are taking the move to test the government’s streamlined licensing process.

The companies intend to commit $7 million a year to the effort under a cost-sharing program with the Energy Department. The goal is to get license approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by 2010.

While three utilities previously have submitted applications for early site approval for reactors, this represents the first time the industry has actually said it would seek construction and operating approval for a new nuclear power plant since 1973.

Interest in new reactors faded after the nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. Many projects were canceled after the accident, although 51 reactors in the pipeline were completed.

The consortium includes four of the country’s largest electricity generating companies: Chicago-based Exelon Corp., which owns 17 reactors; Entergy Nuclear, a unit of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., operator of 10 reactors; Baltimore-based Constellation Energy; and Atlanta-based Southern Co.

NRC must approve any plans
Also in the group are EDF International North America Inc., a subsidiary of Electricite deFrance, which owns interest in a number of U.S. reactors, and two reactor vendors, General Electric and Westinghouse Electric Co. Westinghouse is a subsidiary of the British nuclear company, BNFL.

Both vendors have designs for next-generation reactors before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In the announcement, the participants emphasized that the decision to submit a license application is aimed at testing the government’s new approach to licensing, which for the first time would have the NRC approve a generic reactor design and consider in one process both a construction permit and operating license.

Such a test is considered a major step in the gradual move toward building new reactors. The consortium gave no indication when or where a plant actually might be built. The announcement said neither the consortium nor its members “are making a commitment to build a new nuclear unit at this time.”

Any decision on a future plant would be left to the individual participants in the consortium, the announcement said.

“We must keep the nuclear energy option open for the future,” said Chris Crane, president and chief nuclear officer at Exelon.

Michael Wallace, president of Constellation Energy Group, said while his company “has no immediate plans” for building a new reactor “our decision to join this consortium is indicative of our strong desire to see the process by which new plants are sited streamlined to support efficient construction in the future.”

The consortium hopes to complete the application process by 2008 and get a decision from the NRC by 2010. After that, any company or combination of participants can use the permit to proceed with a construction plan.

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