Exelon keeps project alive with early site permit application


March 20, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.

Exelon Nuclear plans this week to file a 6,000-plus-page document that would give it as many as 40 years to begin work on a power plant in Victoria.

The nuclear energy company has looked at building a plant in the county since 2007. It announced on Friday it plans to file March 25 an early site permit application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"What this allows us to do is keep the option open," company spokesman Craig Nesbit said in Victoria.

"We're going to go into a much more long-term or a hold position," he later added. "We don't want to walk away from Victoria, but we know we're not going to build anytime soon."

The application keeps the project alive while avoiding the pitfalls of doing business when the power market is in flux.

Applying for an early site permit will cost the company $10 million.

Obtaining a construction and operation license would have run about $100 million, Nesbit said.

The permit, if approved by the NRC, would give Exelon three to 20 years to decide whether to build a plant in Victoria County. It can be extended for another 20 years, giving the company up to 40 years to begin construction from the time that the NRC approves the permit.

Once the early site permit application is submitted, it undergoes a three- to four-year review process by the NRC in which it will evaluate the project's environmental impact and safety preparedness.

Although the specifics of the plant have not been hammered out, Exelon's submission to the NRC encompasses a generic scope of parameters, Nesbit said.

The NRC will conduct a public meeting April 15 at the Victoria Community Center to explain what the review process entails.

The project faces opposition from some concerned about health and environmental risks.

Jim Blackburn, an environmental attorney based in Houston, represents Texans for a Sound Energy Policy Alliance, a leading group in the fight against nuclear power in Victoria.

Blackburn wouldn't say if he and members of the organization would attend the April meeting, but said the group remains concerned about health and environmental issues with the possible site.

"There are questions about the adequacy of this site," he said. "It's our intention to bring these issues to the attention of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."

Water use figures prominently into the concerns of some.

The Guadalupe River is the designated water source for the possible power plant, and Exelon has a water reservation agreement with the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority that expires in 2013.

Some worry the river would not provide adequate water supply for all its users should Exelon set up shop.

In the agreement with the GBRA, Exelon reserved 75,000 acre-feet of water every year, Nesbit said.

"If we didn't think there was enough water, we wouldn't build this plant," he said. "We wouldn't spend billions of dollars building a facility if it wouldn't be able to run."



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