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Mississippi energy companies discuss nuclear plans

Even though Entergy Nuclear CEO Gary Taylor said there were no immediate plans to build a new nuclear unit at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson, the company filed an application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for an early site permit (ESP) in October 2003 in connection with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Power 2010 initiative.

“We continually evaluate power generation options,” said Taylor. “This is one that could benefit our electric consumers, the environment, and our country’s energy independence.”

Dan Keuter, vice president of nuclear business development for Jackson-based Entergy Nuclear, the nation’s second-largest operator of nuclear power plants, said the company has been at the very forefront of the effort to develop new nuclear options for the future.

“We bought the first nuclear plant (Pilgrim) in July 1999, and we’ve been in the forefront of early site permitting at Grand Gulf, and we’ve been in the forefront of setting up NuStart and developing the COL process,” he said.

NuStart, a consortium of 11 energy industry leaders, was formed to work with the DOE to demonstrate and test a new licensing process for obtaining a combined construction and operating license (COL) for advanced nuclear power reactors. The consortium will announce later this year two sites for the COL application.

If NuStart selects the Grand Gulf site, Entergy Nuclear, a major subsidiary of Entergy Corporation, would likely allow another company to build on its property or strike a deal with three or four companies to build at the site to spread the financial risk. Either way, Entergy Nuclear would manage the operation and own at least 51%, said Keuter.

Two months ago, The New York Times sent energy reporter Matt Wald to Port Gibson to find out why the community located 25 miles south of Vicksburg endorsed the idea of building a new nuclear reactor at Grand Gulf around the same time city and county governments in New York were trying to close two Entergy reactors at Indian Point in Westchester County.

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to … make this happen,” Port Gibson Mayor Amelda J. Arnold told Wald. City council members and Claiborne County supervisors had already voted separately to encourage Entergy Corporation to build a second reactor at the Port Gibson site.

Last year, Public Citizen, Mississippi Sierra Club, Nuclear Information and Resource Service and the Claiborne County chapter of the Mississippi NAACP filed a petition to intervene against the ESP for a variety of reasons, but in August, the NRC rejected those arguments, including an environmental justice claim. The decision is being appealed.

“Nuclear power is non-polluting,” said Keuter. “Environmentalists’ main issue is there’s no solution to spent fuel, which is false. A deep repository of spent fuel at Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, is a totally safe solution. Eventually, the fuel there will be taken out and reprocessed because 95% can be recycled. Other major countries with nuclear power, including France, Japan, Russia and the UK, all reprocess fuel. Nuclear power is one of the cleanest, most economical solutions to produce large amounts of power with the least environmental impact. Everything has an environmental impact, including wind turbines.”

Last month, Southern Nuclear, a subsidiary of Southern Company, parent of Mississippi Power Company, announced plans to file an ESP with the NRC.

“It should be noted that Southern Company is considering an application for an ESP but hasn’t determined what site would be selected,” said Southern Nuclear spokesperson Steve Higginbottom. “All options are open, but it would likely be at one of the three existing sites where we now operate. We’re probably about two or three years behind Entergy.”

Even though the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), America’s largest public power company, has not publicly discussed expanding its three nuclear plants, TVA chairman Glenn McCullough expressed that “nuclear energy is an important part of TVA’s and the nation’s energy mix, so it is important to evaluate new nuclear reactor designs and the new licensing process.”

“TVA is pleased to partner with Entergy and other nuclear utilities in the NuStart consortium, which received a 2010 award from DOE to demonstrate the new COL process for nuclear reactors and to complete work on two new advanced reactor designs,” he said. “TVA has no plans to build a nuclear reactor at this time. However, by investigating the cost, design, certification and licensing of an advanced nuclear power reactor, we will keep the nuclear option open for the future.”

Entergy is pursuing a two-track approach to keep the nuclear option available, by helping build an advanced light water reactor near-term and pursuing the development of a super-safe, meltdown proof, terrorist-hardened, high-temperature gas reactor that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and be a low-cost source of hydrogen for a new energy economy in the long term, said Keuter.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to foresee the future, but there are several things we know for sure,” he said. “We know there’s increasing demand for electricity, not only in the U.S., but worldwide, especially in China and India. Environmental regulations are only going to get stricter. There’s a finite amount of oil and natural gas, which will only get more expensive. With those things in mind, we believe nuclear power is very promising.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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