Earlier this week, Duke Power Chief Nuclear Officer Brew Barron made an important announcement (registration required) for the future of the commercial nuclear industry at the Platts Nuclear Energy Conference in Washington, D.C.:
Duke Power is in the initial stages of planning the preparation of a combined construction and operating license, or COL, application for a new nuclear generating facility, to be sited within the Duke Power service territory . . .
Most significantly, in order to meet our generation planning model time line, we are focusing our efforts on preparing a COL application that would include the site approval, rather than first making an early site permit application.
This is a really big deal. I was in the room for the announcement, and the attendees seemed to be experiencing a mixture of intense joy and disbelief.
A conversation between two executives at one reactor manufacturer was pretty typical:
"Would you believe somebody making an announcement like that a year ago?" said one.
"A year ago, I wouldn't have believed it six months ago," the other replied.
According to Barron, the new plant would be scheduled to come online somewhere in the middle of the next decade, around 2015. He added that Duke is also in the early stages of identifying a reactor design, and is examining advanced light water reactors from General Electric, Westinghouse and Areva.
Barron said that the decision to pursue the COL was spurred by the need to add cost-effective baseload generation that is both stable and environmentally sound—two of the calling cards of new nuclear capacity:
Increasing load demand, in the face of high gas price volatility and environmental concerns, favors a strategy that includes new nuclear generation as an option, going forward . . . In the end, our analysis shows new nuclear generation is the best long-term option to balance the needs of the Duke Power customer, the environment, and, with the right commercial arrangements, the Duke Energy shareholder . . .
So here we are today … with Duke Power planning the preparation of a COL application. It is not a commitment to build; it is a commitment to maintain new nuclear capacity as a meaningful option for our customers.
Just another indication of how things are looking very different in the nuclear energy business these days.