Grand Gulf begins process to study second reactor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 16, 2002

[04/15/02] Entergy Nuclear is starting a study that may lead to the construction of a second unit at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson.

The decision, announced today, does not mean a second unit will be built but it will bring the company to a point at which a decision can be made, a spokesman said.

Construction of the present Grand Gulf boiling water reactor was triggered in in 1971 and commercial operations began in in 1985. Through the 14-year period, thousands were employed by Bechtel, Inc., the world’s largest construction company, and $3 billion was spent.

In its announcement today, Entergy Nuclear said it planned to prepare an application for an early site permit for the Grand Gulf site to keep its options open for a new, advanced reactor at some time in the future.

“We have not made a decision to start building a new nuclear unit,” said Randy Hutchinson, senior vice president of business development Entergy Nuclear, a major subsidiary of the New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. “Having that option available, though, is in the best interests of our power consumers, Entergy and the nation’s energy independence. Almost all new power plants being built will run on natural gas, and that puts this country’s future supply of electricity at some risk.”

No nuclear plants are under construction in the country and no new plants have started operations in the past decade.

Most plants use flowing water to turn turbines or burn fossil fuels to create steam to spin turbines that make electricity. Grand Gulf is the only plant in Mississippi where a controlled nuclear reaction heats distilled river water to 590 degrees to spin its turbine.

When Grand Gulf construction began, the company planned a second generating unit at the site. Costs and demand factors led to scrapping what would have been Unit 2 in 1989.

The decision announced today is the first step in the new, streamlined licensing process of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that is supposed to reduce the regulatory uncertainty by completing environmental and other site-specific work before a utility makes a financial decision to build. If a permit is issued, it will only pre-approve the Claiborne County site for possible future construction.

Entergy expects to submit the early site permit application to the NRC in June 2003.

“Whether we ever build a new plant there will depend on economic conditions three to five years from now what the power demand is in this region; what new, advanced reactor designs are certified by the NRC and available to build; what the price of power from competing generating resources is, and what the expected cost of power would be from a new nuclear plant,” Hutchinson said.

The early site application will take about a year to prepare and the NRC is expected to need at least two years to review and act on it, including holding public information briefings in the area. The site permit work will be done by an unregulated Entergy Nuclear subsidiary.

The permit is good for 20 years and can be renewed for an additional 20 years. In effect, Entergy would bank the permit until the company felt a new nuclear generating unit would benefit consumers.