NRC puts out for review an environmental report on PPL’s Bell Bend nuclear project

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are issuing for public comment the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Combined License (COL) for the Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant.

The NRC said in a notice to be published in the April 21 Federal Register that PPL Bell Bend LLC (PPL) in October 2008 submitted an application for the COL to construct and operate one new nuclear power plant at its Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant (BBNPP) site, located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

Comments on the draft EIS are due by July 7. A notice of intent to prepare a draft EIS and to conduct scoping was published in the Federal Register in January 2009. In March 2012, PPL submitted a revised environmental report to provide detailed information regarding the revised site layout that was developed in order to avoid wetland impacts by relocating the power block footprint and other plant components.

The NRC and USACE staff will conduct two public meetings to present an overview of the draft EIS and to accept public comments on both the document and the associated Department of the Army permit application. Those meetings will both be on June 4 at Bloomsburg University.

The NRC’s proposed federal action here is issuance of a COL for the AVERA U.S. EPR reactor at the BBNPP site near Berwick, Pennsylvania. The USACE’s federal action is its decision of whether to issue, deny, or issue with modifications a Department of Army (DA) permit pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 to authorize certain construction activities potentially affecting waters of the United States.

The purpose of the proposed NRC action, issuance of the COL, is to generate 1,600 MW(e) of electricity (baseload power) for sale with commercial operation starting June 2025. The basic project purpose for the project is to generate electricity for additional baseload capacity. In this EIS, the review team evaluates the environmental effects of constructing and operating a U.S. EPR reactor with a thermal power rating of 4,950 MW(t) at the BBNPP site.

The BBNPP site is located near Berwick, Pennsylvania, adjacent to the existing Susquehanna Steam Electric Station Units 1 and 2. The site is approximately 115 miles northwest of Philadelphia.. Cooling water for the plant would be obtained from the Susquehanna River. The BBNPP would use two natural draft cooling towers to transfer waste heat to the atmosphere. A portion of the water obtained from the Susquehanna River would be returned to the environment via a discharge structure located in the Susquehanna River downstream of the existing Susquehanna Steam Electric Station discharge structure.

The NRC noted that in July 2014, PPL Corp. (NYSE: PPL) submitted a request to NRC to transfer ownership of the SSES site to the newly-created Talen Energy, a PPL spinoff corporation. PPL Bell Bend would become the sole owner of the BBNPP project site and the owner/operator of the new BBNPP project facilities.

In addition to the existing transmission lines to the Susquehanna plant, PPL Electric Utilities is developing a new 500-kV transmission line from Susquehanna to the Roseland Substation in New Jersey. The Susquehanna-to-Roseland transmission line is a PJM Interconnection Regional Transmission Expansion Plan project required to maintain regional grid reliability. Work on the new transmission line, generally moving west to east through Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wayne, Pike, and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania, began in summer 2012. The new transmission line is expected to be in service in time to meet peak summer electricity demand in 2015.

Existing and new nuclear plants would be kept basically separate

The SSES site contains two boiling water reactors and shared infrastructure (i.e., a control room, a turbine building, a radioactive-waste building, two natural draft cooling towers, an emergency diesel generator building, an intake structure, and a blowdown discharge outfall). The SSES site also contains an Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation and the Susquehanna 500-kV substation. BBNPP would be located approximately 5,000 ft west of SSES Units 1 and 2 and have a separate access road and protected area from the SSES site. BBNPP would not share any support facilities with SSES other than electrical connection to the offsite transmission system, the Emergency Operations Facility, and a railroad spur.

The proposed BBNPP reactor design is an AREVA U.S. Evolutionary Power Reactor (U.S. EPR), which is a pressurized water reactor. The U.S. EPR design has a thermal power rating of 4,590 MW(t) and a design gross electrical output of 1,710 MW(e). The estimated station and auxiliary service load is 110 MW(e) for the proposed new unit, for a net electrical output of 1,600 MW(e).

Said PPL Corp.’s Feb. 23 annual Form 10-K report about this project: “In 2008, a PPL Energy Supply subsidiary, PPL Bell Bend, LLC (PPL Bell Bend) submitted a COLA to the NRC for the proposed Bell Bend nuclear generating unit (Bell Bend) to be built adjacent to the Susquehanna plant. Also in 2008, PPL Bell Bend submitted Parts I and II of an application for a federal loan guarantee for Bell Bend to the [U.S. Department of Energy]. In February 2014, the DOE announced the first loan guarantee for a nuclear project in Georgia. Although eight of the ten applicants that submitted Part II applications remain active in the DOE program, the DOE has stated that the $18.5 billion currently appropriated to support new nuclear projects would not likely be enough for more than three projects. PPL Bell Bend submits quarterly application updates for Bell Bend to the DOE to remain active in the loan guarantee application process.

“The NRC continues to review the COLA. PPL Bell Bend does not expect to complete the COLA review process with the NRC prior to 2018. PPL Bell Bend has made no decision to proceed with construction and expects that such decision will not be made for several years given the anticipated lengthy NRC license approval process. Additionally, PPL Bell Bend does not expect to proceed with construction absent favorable economics, a joint arrangement with other interested parties and a federal loan guarantee or other acceptable financing. PPL Bell Bend is currently authorized by PPL’s Board of Directors to spend up to $224 million on the COLA and other permitting costs necessary for construction. At December 31, 2014 and 2013, $188 million and $173 million of costs, which includes capitalized interest, associated with the licensing application were capitalized and are included on the Balance Sheets in noncurrent “Other intangibles.” PPL Energy Supply continues to support the Bell Bend licensing project with a near term focus on obtaining the final environmental impact statement. PPL Energy Supply placed the NRC safety review (which supports issuance of their final safety evaluation report, the other key element of the COLA) on hold in 2014, due to a lack of progress by the reactor vendor with respect to its NRC design certification process, which is a prerequisite to the COLA. PPL Bell Bend believes that the estimated fair value of the COLA currently exceeds the costs expected to be capitalized associated with the licensing application.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.