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Financing New Nukes

Federal loan guarantees raise hopes for new reactors planned by affiliates of Constellation and NRG.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2008

As of press time, Austin had yet to commit.

Queuing Up

Tokyo-based Japan Steel Works, through Toshiba, is responsible for fabricating the long-lead-time components, including the twin reactor vessels, for NRG’s project. Since there is no longer a nuclear-manufacturing presence in the United States, Winn says first movers hoping to benefit from federal incentives need to get in the manufacturing queue with suppliers in Japan or France ASAP.

UniStar Nuclear’s Vanderheyden agrees. UniStar is the nuclear business model jointly developed in 2005 by Constellation Energy, the French reactor vendor AREVA NP Inc. and the French electric utility Electricite de France. Unlike NRG’s single-plant approach, UniStar’s stated goal is to lead a “nuclear renaissance” in the United States by licensing, constructing and operating a fleet of advanced nuclear power plants.

The company submitted a partial COLA for Calvert Cliffs in hopes of beginning construction by 2010. But UniStar also is looking well beyond that. The company wants to build at least three more units at plants owned and operated by other electric utilities, including: Pennsylvania Power & Light’s Susquehanna nuclear plant near Berwick, Pa.; AmerenUE’s Callaway nuclear plant in Callaway County, Missouri; and two units for Amarillo Power in Texas. It also hopes to add reactors to Constellation’s upstate New York Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station and R.E. Ginna Nuclear Plant.

“Under our business model, we need a fleet of at least four units in the first phase,” Vanderheyden says. “Nobody has made a decision to build a plant yet, but we’re all moving as quickly as we can.” The company hopes to have Calvert Cliffs producing power by 2015, with succeeding projects moving down the same developmental path and starting up in 2016, 2017, and 2018. “With Calvert Cliffs we’re laying the groundwork we need to make all this viable,” Vanderheyden says.

UniStar’s sourcing issues are at least partially resolved by AREVA, which brings the consortium its evolutionary power reactor (EPR) design, as well as its nuclear component manufacturing facility in Chalon-St. Marcel, France. AREVA signed a contract in July 2006 to supply the first 45 ultra-heavy forgings for Calvert Cliffs, including the reactor pressure vessel and steam generator. Further, AREVA and BWX Technologies Inc., a subsidiary of McDermott International, signed an agreement in 2006 to upgrade BWX’s U.S. nuclear power plant component manufacturing capabilities, which further supports the UniStar business model.

“It’s been so long since nuclear components were built here that the U.S. has basically lost its manufacturing infrastructure,” Vanderheyden says. “Right now, the only nuclear component suppliers are in Japan and France. If you analyze the global supply chain, there are certainly pinch points.”

In addition to manufacturing capabilities, Vanderheyden says U.S. developers may have to tap the international markets for project management and engineering expertise as well.

“We have to grow quickly,” he says. The company expected to expand its staff from 75 to 100 by the end of 2007, with more hiring to come. “We’re looking at developing up to $16 billion in projects over the next eight years, and most experienced project and contract managers in