Feds approve new nuclear reactors near Houston

Outside the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at Avila Beach, California, U.S., on Friday, March 30, 2012. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
(David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The federal government on Tuesday approved the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project nuclear plant southwest of Houston.

But the massive cost of the project coupled with cheap Texas power prices mean that NRG Energy and its partners have no plans to build the new nuclear reactors anytime soon, if at all.

The partnership is continuing to look for new U.S. investors to eventually move the stalled project  forward, said NRG spokesman David Knox. NRG said five years ago it wasn’t investing any more money in the expansion. Near that time, NRG estimated the project would cost about $14 billion with financing.

“Market conditions, currently dominated by low natural gas prices, make the economics of new merchant nuclear challenging,” Knox said. “However, we continue to believe that new nuclear power is important for Texas and a carbon constrained world and having this license will enable (the partners) to move quickly when market conditions support a construction decision.”

The existing South Texas Project is owned jointly by NRG, Austin Energy, and San Antonio’s CPS Energy. The potential expansion project is through the Nuclear Innovation North America, or NINA, which is 90 percent owned by NRG and 10 percent by Toshiba. NINA owns 92.4 percent of the expansion. NRG has sought additional partners in the expansion since CPS Energy, once a 50 percent partner, reduced its stake to 7.6 percent.

After several years of review, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Tuesday it approved the issuance of the licenses to build two new nuclear reactors. The plant in Matagorda County already has two reactors. The South Texas Project, one of two nuclear power plants in Texas, opened in 1988, but is still one of the nation’s newer nuclear plants.

The project previously faced delays in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The NRC said Tuesday the new licenses would include the agency’s upgraded post-Fukushima safety requirements.