Entergy takes another step toward second Grand Gulf reactor

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 22, 2003

[10/22/03]Entergy Nuclear is moving ahead with exploration of whether to seek permission to build a second generating facility at its Grand Gulf Nuclear Station near Port Gibson.

In April 2002, the company announced it intended to study whether to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for an early site permit, the first step in the process toward building a second reactor and generator unit at Grand Gulf, about 24 miles from Vicksburg.

The Jackson-based division of Entergy Inc. has now filed an application for an early site permit, but that doesn’t mean a decision has been made or all variables considered, the company said.

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“We have no immediate plans to build a new nuclear unit at Grand Gulf,” said Gary Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Entergy Nuclear.

Construction on Grand Gulf Unit One, Mississippi’s only nuclear plant, began in 1972 and its boiling water reactor began generating electricity in 1985. When final costs were tallied, the plant cost about $3 billion. Plans for a second unit were scrapped in 1989.

For the past 18 months, informational hearings and meetings have been held to distribute information to people in the area about Entergy Nuclear’s intentions and about the new process of getting federal permission to build a second unit at Grand Gulf. An opponent group has also held hearings, providing arguments against a second reactor.

As explained at NRC-hosted meetings, the application for the early site permit is the first step and is followed by determining if the site is suitable for a nuclear generating plant. Later steps in the process are approval of a reactor design, either as an industrywide standard or as one specific to the particular site, and finally the applications and licensing for construction and operation.

Among the tasks to be accomplished before the application are an environmental impact statement and plans for handling emergencies and security provisions.

The NRC’s task does not include the need for power, the cost of producing it and spent fuel disposal.

No new nuclear plants have been built in the United States since the 1980s, and Taylor said that should change.

“Almost all new power plants being built today will run on natural gas, and that lack of fuel diversity puts this country’s future supply of electricity at some risk,” he said. “Nuclear energy also generates large volumes of low-cost power without emitting large amounts of air pollution.”

Although they have no plans for construction, Entergy Nuclear will be able to “bank” the early site permit since it is good for 20 years and renewable for another 20, allowing it to shorten the overall lead time before construction from about eight years to five.

Taylor said the company constantly evaluates power generation options.

“Whether we ever build a new plant (at Grand Gulf) 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 NRC and available to build, what the price of power from other generating resources might be, compared to the expected cost of power from a new nuclear unit,” he said.

The process of reviewing the application is expected to take two years and will include holding public informational briefings in the area.

Half of the $10 million cost for developing the early site permit came from the federal government through the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Power 2010 program. Entergy Nuclear funded the rest.