NRC clears way for issuance of new reactor licenses at South Texas Project

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has cleared the way for the agency’s Office of New Reactors to issue two combined construction and operating licenses (COL) for Nuclear Innovation North America’s (NINA) South Texas Project site in Texas.

Based on the mandatory hearing on NINA’s application, the Commission found the staff’s review adequate to make the necessary regulatory safety and environmental findings, the NRC said in a Feb. 9 news release.

Given weak power prices and cheap natural gas, it is not believed that NINA will look to make the multi-billion-dollar investment in new nuclear anytime soon.

NRG Energy (NYSE:NRG) is a majority owner of NINA and Toshiba is a minority owner. In April 2011, weeks after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, NRG said it was writing down its investment for STP Units 3 and 4 but would continue to pursue the NRC license through its nuclear development affiliate NINA.

NRG, which recently changed CEOs, will discuss its quarterly earnings on Feb. 29.

Following the Commissioners’ direction, the NRC staff will work to issue the COLs promptly. The licenses will authorize NINA to build and operate two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) at the site near Bay City, Texas. The South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Co. already operates two reactors at the site. The staff will impose several conditions on the license, including:

  • Specific actions associated with the agency’s post-Fukushima requirements for Mitigation Strategies and Spent Fuel Pool Instrumentation;
  • Requiring monitoring and analysis of the reactors’ steam dryers during initial plant startup, in line with current procedures for existing boiling-water reactors approved to operate at increased power levels; and
  • Setting a pre-startup schedule for post-Fukushima aspects of the new reactor’s emergency preparedness plans and procedures.

NINA submitted its application for the licenses on Sept. 20, 2007. The NRC’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards independently reviewed aspects of the application that concern safety, as well as the staff’s final safety evaluation report (FSER). The committee provided the results of its review to the NRC on Feb. 19, 2015.

The NRC completed its environmental review and issued the final environmental impact statement for the proposed South Texas Project reactors in February 2011. The NRC completed and issued the FSER on Sept. 29, 2015. The NRC certified the 1,300-MW ABWR design in 1997; more information on the certification process is available on the NRC website.

The existing two units at the South Texas Project are 1,300-MW pressurized water reactors (PWRs) at the complex in Matagorda County, Texas.

The existing two units are owned by NRG Energy (44%); CPS Energy (40%); and Austin Energy (16%). The units are run by STP Nuclear.

NRG Energy happy to see license win approval

“We are pleased that the NRC Commissioners have approved STP 3&4’s Operating License,” NRG Energy spokesperson David Knox said when contacted by GenerationHub.

“While NRG publicly stated in 2011 that the company will not invest further in new nuclear, NINA is working on business development and the steps necessary to move the project forward including finding a new US investor,” Knox said.

“Market conditions, currently dominated by low natural gas prices, make the economics of new merchant nuclear challenging,” said the NRG representative. “However, we continue to believe that new nuclear power is important for Texas and a carbon constrained world and having this license will enable NINA to move quickly when market conditions support a construction decision.”

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.