America Goes Nuclear

The news was positively explosive. Or radioactive. Really, it depends on your point of view.

Just shy of one year from the day that Japan's Toshiba announced it was the new owner of nuclear power plant builder Westinghouse, America's NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG  ) announced it intends to put the Japanese to work. NRG has filed the first application to build a new nuclear power reactor in the U.S. since Three Mile Island went "boom" (figuratively speaking) in 1979. And Toshiba will get the contract to help do the building.

NRG petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for permission to build two new nuclear power units at its South Texas Project in Bay City, Texas. But NRG will not be the only firm filing for permission to build a nuke plant in the U.S. In fact, it wasn't even part of the six-firm consortium that signed on to a DOE project three years ago to test a new Combined Construction and Operating Licensing procedure aimed at streamlining the approvals process. (Westinghouse was, however, part of the consortium. The other members were Constellation Energy (NYSE: CEG  ) ; Exelon (NYSE: EXC  ) ; Southern Company (NYSE: SO  ) ; Entergy (NYSE: ETR  ) , the North America division of France's EDF International; and General Electric.)

But it gets even bigger. The NRC says it is expecting as many as six more applications by year-end -- presumably from the four energy firms named above, but also from Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK  ) and Dominion Resources (NYSE: D  ) .

Bigger, and faster
Nearly as noteworthy as the list of applicants queuing up to file paperwork is the speed with which the applications are arriving. If you were following this story back in 2004, you'll recall that back then, we weren't expecting the first of these applications to be filed before 2008 -- so we're already several months ahead of schedule.

Or not
The third and final thing to note here, though, is a possible delay in the whole process. NRG reportedly plans to have its new plants up and cranking out power by 2015 at the latest. However, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggests it could take 15 years from the time an application is submitted, to the moment the resulting plant comes on line. Why? The CRS warns that contrary to its objective, making approval go through the still-untested Combined Construction and Operating Licensing procedure could perversely act to delay review.

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