NRG to Change South Texas Nuclear Plant Application

July 23, 2008  

NRG to Change South Texas Nuclear Plant Application

New Project Is Already Over Budget and Delayed, Showing That Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer to Our Energy Needs

AUSTIN – As energy companies line up across the country to receive federal subsidies in a supposedly streamlined licensing process for new nuclear plants, NRG Energy is moving backwards on a new project that already is over budget and delayed, proving that nuclear energy is wrought with problems.

Today, 10 months after NRG submitted the first new nuclear reactor application in 29 years, the company shared its concerns and discussed revisions to its application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for the proposed expansion of the South Texas Project near Bay City. The original license application was so incomplete at one point that the NRC halted its review. The company proposes expanding the plant from two reactors to four.

“Apparently, NRG has had concerns over whether Toshiba had enough experience to design and build the proposed reactor,” said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “While the company now feels more comfortable with Toshiba, why is this discussion coming so late? Why did NRG submit a license application if it was so unsure of their vendor?”

At the NRC meeting, NRG described changes it wants to make to the design for an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor, which the NRC pre-approved in an attempt to streamline the licensing process for new reactors.

“NRG should have figured out the design changes long before submitting its license application,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “If the company can’t get its paperwork done, how can Texans trust it to build a nuclear reactor? If it can’t get its cost estimates right, how can shareholders trust the company to deliver on their investment?”

NRG now estimates that it will submit the revised license application in October, 13 months after it sent the original application to the NRC. 

The same pattern of unreliability that plagued the nuclear industry in the 1970s and 1980s with construction delays, cost overruns and cancelled plants appears to be happening again, according to Smith.

“This shows the fallacy of claims that nuclear power is the answer to our growing energy demand,” Smith said.

NRG claimed last year that it could build two new reactors for $6.5 billion. Its estimate has now jumped up another $1.5 billion.

CPS Energy of San Antonio, a partner in the expansion project, won’t give a cost estimate to the public, but outside estimates go as high as $18 billion. Austin Energy, which owns part of the existing nuclear plant, declined to participate in the expansion earlier this year, citing cost as the main reason.

Many in the energy industry acknowledge their reliance on the government. 

“NRG CEO David Crane said back in 2007 that he would be unable to do a nuclear project without government aid,” Hadden said. “That was why the company wanted to be the first to submit a new application in 29 years.”

The SEED Coalition expects the revised application to have problems too, and intends to follow the application just as before.

“We’ll fight this because nuclear is the most expensive form of energy known to man, and poses extensive health and safety risks to the community,” Hadden said. “Citizens won’t get to know the details until the revised license application comes out and the clock begins ticking on citizen opposition.”