US to speed reactor approvals

The new head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission thinks he can cut the time it takes to license a nuclear power plant in half, to about two years.

Chairman Dale Klein will have many opportunities to try: The commission expects applications for 29 new nuclear power plants ahead of the 2008 deadline to get federal incentives. That includes nine reactors in Texas.

If it takes about 48 months to actually build a plant, “42 months to license seems a bit long,” Mr. Klein told reporters Friday. He said it’s “not unreasonable” to cut that licensing time in half without compromising safety.

“We look at too many little things and miss the big things,” said Mr. Klein, who was assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear and chemical and biological defense programs before taking his current job in July.

Cutting the time it takes to license a plant could help some companies put plants into production more quickly, especially those in the very early planning stages.

For consumers, it could mean getting the relatively cheap and clean nuclear electricity sooner. And it could also pressure the U.S. government to resolve the issue of where to store nuclear waste.

“We’ve been sort of counting on the more traditional time of 3 ½ years. If they can do it quicker, that’s good news, but we’d rather everybody feel comfortable with it,” said Steve Wynn, president of NRG Texas, which plans to build the next nuclear reactor in the state, by 2014.

The U.S. has 103 nuclear power reactors, which generate about 20 percent of the country’s electricity.

NRG Texas said in June it plans to build two more reactors at its South Texas Project and expects the first to be in production by 2014.

Last month, TXU Corp. announced plans to build up to six reactors at three sites across the state by around 2015 to 2020.

And on Friday, a spokesman for Exelon Corp. said the company plans to apply for a license to build one nuclear plant in Texas. Exelon spokesman Craig Nesbit said the company is evaluating eight sites in Texas, none of which has a nuclear plant now.

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