Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nuclear Power Construction Creeps Forward At NRC And In Congress

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued a permit for limited construction on two new nuclear power reactors in Georgia. NRC has pending before it 17 license applications for construction of a total of 27 reactors. Although America's 104 nuclear power reactors nuclear reactors produce 20% of the nation's electrical power, no permits for new reactor construction have been issued since the 1979 partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island.

Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts has introduced H.R. 3448 to cut through the red tape and speed up the process of reviewing applications for construction permits and operating licenses on new nuclear power generating facilities, but the bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and to the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee.

NRC Chairman Greg Jaczko acknowledges that the processing of the pending paperwork has been two slow, but at the same time he opposes Congressional intervention to move things forward. "I would love for us to be able to do our job even more effectively than we do," Jaczko said. "We're constantly looking for ways to do that, but we won't ever compromise safety to do that."

Because of the financial risk from regulatory delays, private investment in new nuclear power plant construction id virtually impossible to obtain. Consequently, the Energy Department has established $18.5 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry, but that fund will provide for construction of only about three of the 27 reactors for which construction permit applications are pending. Of course, approval of the construction permits could go a long way to freeing up private investment to pay for this construction.

So, paperwork at the NRC is holding up the start of $162 billion in projects which could go a very long way towards jump starting the heavy industrial segment of the construction industry.
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