Grand Gulf moves step closer to 2nd reactor|[03/28/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Tuesday to authorize an early site permit that could lead to Mississippi’s largest-ever construction project – a second reactor at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station.

Applicants for the permit said they will discuss their plans next week.

&#8220By a 5-0 vote, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission authorized the NRC’s Office of New Reactors to issue an early site permit to System Energy Resources Inc. for the Grand Gulf ESP site near Port Gibson,” an NRC news release says. &#8220The staff has 10 business days to carry out the commission’s directions and issue the permit.”

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The next step will be to apply for a combined construction and operating license, said Diane Park, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear. If the NRC approves the request, the license will be valid for 20 years, she said.

The &#8220expedited” process of seeking government permission was created to encourage more nuclear plants in America and was largely federally funded. Reaching this point through studies, hearings, reports and reviews has taken five years.

Grand Gulf, now Mississippi’s only nuclear plant, is operated by Entergy, a multistate power company based in New Orleans with subsidiaries operating in several states, and owned by System Energy Resources Inc. and South Mississippi Electric Power Association.

According to the NRC, completing the early site permit process resolves site-related safety and environmental matters and determines Grand Gulf is &#8220suitable for possible future construction and operation of a nuclear power plant.”

Grand Gulf, operational since 1985, is on a 2,100-acre site off U.S. 61, north of Port Gibson, and employs more than 700.

If a second reactor is built, construction could begin as early as 2009 and could be ready to generate electricity in about 2015.

Building the first reactor took 11 years and cost more than $3 billion.

A spokesman for Entergy, Timothy Crisler, said approval of the early site permit does not mean a reactor will be built, though an application for the construction and operating license is expected to be filed this year by a consortium of 12 companies, NuStart Energy Development LLC.

Crisler said Entergy will not provide details on the early site permit approval until April 5, when officials are expected to formally announce the move in a news conference in Jackson.

If an early site permit is issued, it will be valid for the start of construction for 20 years and could be renewed for another 20 years.

The NRC’s approval of the permit is good news for Claiborne County, Jackson attorney Mike Espy said.

&#8220This is the first big one,” he said. &#8220The next step is the combined operating license.”

Espy represents the Claiborne County Board of Supervisors and was initially hired as the board’s designee to negotiate benefits for the county. He has since become the board’s general counsel.

&#8220For the county, it’s very significant,” Espy said. &#8220It means more jobs, but it’s unknown how many jobs because we don’t know how big the plant will be. Whatever the size, we know the benefit is going to be substantial.”

And the benefit must be far larger than in 1986, when the Mississippi Legislature changed state law to provide Claiborne half the taxes and apportion the rest among the cities and counties where Entergy Mississippi sells the plant’s electricity.

Claiborne became one of the nation’s wealthiest counties per-capita when Grand Gulf fired up, paying $16 million in taxes in a 12,000-citizen county government that had operated on less than $1 million a year. It was short-lived.

&#8220This time, it has to be better than that,” Espy said. &#8220This (second reactor) will provide opportunity for other development to occur – a new hospital and roads – likely the result of what is happening today and, in my opinion, tomorrow.”

When work began on Grand Gulf in 1974, plans called for completion of a second unit by 1984. Five years later, those plans were scrapped.

Grand Gulf now pays about $8 million in real property taxes to the county of about 12,000 and to Port Gibson, with a population of 1,800.

After the 1986 formula took effect, Claiborne County sued the state to abolish the formula and regain access to all Grand Gulf tax revenues. Two years later, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the split.

The Legislature in 1990, as part of a deal to drop the lawsuit, gave Claiborne an additional $4 million in one-time money and another $1 million annually from collections in excess of the first $16 million apportioned and another 10 percent of the remaining balance for 10 years.

About 3,500 construction jobs and 400 new permanent employees could result from what would be the first new nuclear reactor construction in the United States in more than 30 years.

According to its Web site, Entergy is one of three nuclear operating companies in the nation that has applied for an early site permit. Entergy’s application was judged complete in 2005 by the NRC’s review staff.

Separately, the Web site says, all objections filed by anti-nuclear critics were thrown out by the ASLB in 2005.