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By RUSTY DENNEN
Seven years into the application process, Dominion power's plan to add a third nuclear reactor at North Anna Power Station is still just that--a plan.
If the company decides to build Unit 3 on the shores of Lake Anna--and it has yet to make that commitment--the earliest it could come online is 2019, the company now says.
While the application process continues to play out, it's difficult for anyone to say with certainty, when--or even if--a Unit 3 will join the two existing reactors at the plant near Mineral in Louisa County.
Since submitting its initial application for an early site permit in September 2003 to lock in a location for 20 years, Dominion has been revising its timeline.
Early company estimates had the unit coming online in 2012, then 2015 and now 2019.
Company officials say the framework of a new application process to allow the construction of the first new commercial power reactor in three decades, is taking time to navigate.
Dominion received its early site permit in the fall of 2007, then applied for a combined license that would allow it to actually build and operate Unit 3. It is one of 19 reactor applications from around the country that are awaiting NRC approval.
DESIGN CHANGE DELAY
At one point, Dominion was at the head of the pack. But there have been delays because of additional NRC and state reviews of aspects of the project, along with more substantive reasons.
The most significant was a decision by Dominion in May to go with a different reactor design.
Dominion's first choice was GE Hitachi's Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor. But when Dominion was unable to get commitments from GE Hitachi that it needed to move forward, the utility sought proposals from other vendors.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries' US-Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor won out. Luminant Generation Co. LLC has also chosen the Mitsubishi design for two planned reactors at its Comanche Peak plant in Texas.
Neither of the new, advanced reactors has been certified by the NRC.
It is not clear yet how the reactor design change will affect the timetable for North Anna Unit 3.
Scott Burnell, spokesman for the NRC, said this week that the agency staff must decide whether it would require significant additional review of safety and environmental issues.
"It may turn out that the review done for the [GE Hitachi] design" would be sufficient for the Mitsubishi reactor, "meaning that not a lot of additional review is needed. The staff is still working that out," Burnell said.
The Mitsubishi reactor would generate about 1,500 megawatts of power, almost as much as North Anna's existing Units 1 and 2 combined.
Dominion has said that additional safety and environmental review would not be necessary.
"We're kind of in flux here, but we anticipate they [Mitsubishi] will get the certification to allow us to build and begin operating in 2019 or 2020," said Richard Zuercher, spokesman for Dominion's nuclear operations.
If the company decides to go ahead, initial site preparation work allowed by the early site permit could begin within two years, he said. By 2013, with a combined license in hand, "We could be pouring concrete and actually building the unit."
Construction would take four to five years.
BILLIONS TO BUILD
The cost of the project is another unknown, which could affect whether Unit 3 is ever built.
In 2004, one Dominion executive said the price tag for Unit 3 would be about the same as the cost of a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired plant--about $1.4 billion.
In 2008, the pro-industry Nuclear Energy Institute put the construction cost of a new, 1,000-megawatt plant at between $6 billion and $8 billion. Newer estimates from other sources bracket the figure closer to $10 billion.
Dominion and other utilities received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Energy to help cover the cost of the NRC application process.
Meanwhile, billions of dollars in federal loan guarantees have been approved by Congress to help utilities finance the massive construction projects.
Dominion is not among those in line to receive a loan guarantee, but has asked to be considered. In February, President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to the Southern Company and two partners to build two reactors in Georgia. That's part of an $18.5 billion guarantee fund set aside for financing new reactors.
Jerry Rosenthal, with People's Alliance for Clean Energy and a longtime opponent of new reactors at North Anna, says the industry's optimism is misplaced.
"I think three big things are happening. One is the continuing delay" in the application process, he said. Second, "Dominion is not even on the list of getting a loan guarantee; and the nuclear option has become completely uneconomical."
Rosenthal, who lives in Louisa County not far from North Anna, said that while the cost of producing power by wind and solar generation is coming down, "nuclear has been on an upward spiral."
He noted that neither Dominion nor Mitsubishi has released estimates on how much Unit 3 would cost.
Dominion's Zuercher says that figure won't be set until negotiations are complete.
"I know we're working to get acceptable financial arrangements to make the project go forward," Zuercher said.
Dominion also operates three other nuclear power plants: Surry Power Station on the James River, Millstone Power Station in Connecticut and Kewaunee
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431
North Anna Power Station's Units 1 and 2 went online in 1978 and 1980, respectively.
The plant's two Westinghouse pressurized water reactors produce 1,806 megawatts of electricity--enough to power about 450,000 homes.
The plant was originally designed for four reactors, but only two were built.
Unit 3, if it is built, would produce about 1,500 megawatts of power and would be constructed near the existing units on the Louisa County shore of Lake Anna.