DTE keeps nuclear option open with license for Fermi 3 project

DTE Energy (NYSE:DTE) might or might not actually build and operate a new nuclear plant in Michigan but now it has a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license to go forward if it chooses.

DTE said April 30 that it has received NRC approval for a combined construction and operating (COL) license for a new nuclear energy facility on the site of the existing Fermi 2 nuclear plant in Newport, Mich.

The company has not committed to building the new plant, but will keep the option open for long-term planning purposes.

“With this license, DTE Energy now possesses the most diverse, comprehensive slate of options to plan for Michigan’s energy future,” said DTE Energy’s President and COO officer Steven Kurmas. “The potential of additional nuclear energy gives us the option of reliable, base-load, generation that does not emit greenhouse gases.”

The company’s current diverse generation mix includes fossil fuels, wind, natural gas, solar, as well as the Fermi 2 plant, a 1,140-MW nuclear energy facility that has been operating since 1988.

NRC said in a news release that it has found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, clearing the way for the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue the license.

The Commission imposed several conditions on the license. For example, there would need to be a pre-startup schedule for post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactor’s emergency preparedness plans and procedures.

DTE submitted its COL application on Sept. 18, 2008. It was officially filed by DTE Electric Co., formally Detroit Edison.

The decision by the NRC caps a detailed, six-year process that examined the technical, safety and environmental aspects of the potential unit.  DTE Energy has referenced the GE Hitachi ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor) as the unit that would be built on the site. The ESBWR is an advanced design that the NRC certified in November 2014.

The potential unit would have a generating capacity of 1,500 MW, noted GE Hitachi in a news release. The reactor includes passive safety features to cool down the reactor after an accident without the need for electricity or human intervention, NRC noted.

“We congratulate DTE Energy on obtaining this license which gives the company the option to add more clean, baseload nuclear power to its diverse energy mix,” said GEH President & CEO Caroline Reda. “The granting of this license is also an important milestone for the ESBWR, the world’s latest reactor design to be certified by the U.S. NRC.”

In addition to DTE Energy, Dominion (NYSE:D) has also selected ESBWR technology for its North Anna Unit 3 project in Virginia, GEH said. That project is expected to be licensed next year.

Current new reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina both use the Westinghouse Electric AP 1000 reactor design.

“Since nuclear energy facilities already are reliably and affordably producing 90 percent of Michigan’s carbon-free electricity, it makes perfect sense for DTE Energy to bank a combined construction and operating license for a potential new reactor,” said Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) Vice President for Policy Development and Planning Richard Myers.

“NEI continues to press for reforms to regional electric markets, in Michigan and elsewhere, that will better value nuclear energy facilities and bring to fruition the construction of the new nuclear power plants that our nation needs to help meet its economic and environmental goals,” Myers said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.