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Building New Nuclear Facilities

Companies building the next nuclear plants will proceed in a phased process, increasing their investment in the project as they become more certain it is the
right course of action.

An Improved Licensing Process

A new generation of nuclear power plants will feature advanced designs, refined construction techniques, and a licensing process geared to a mature technology—improvements built on 50 years of experience in operating nuclear plants.

Companies started applying to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for combined construction/operating licenses in 2007—for the first time in 30 years. Since then, five nuclear power plants in the United States have begun construction, and another 12 companies and consortia are in the exploration, licensing and financial stages associated with such an endeavor.

Construction of the next generation of U.S. nuclear plants will differ markedly from the old process, when companies built plants as the designs and regulations were evolving. Designs for the next plants built will have all design-related safety issues resolved before construction begins.

Unlike the old licensing process, the new process allows companies to re-evaluate their decision to proceed at various points in the process without debilitating losses. The entire process, from starting the application to completing the new power plant, will take an estimated nine years. Actual construction will take about four years, excluding about 18 months for pre-construction preparation.

Steps to Nuclear Plant Construction

In a competitive electricity market, there are three steps to construction:

  • file an application for a combined U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission license, which will allow a company to build and operate a nuclear plant, provided the facility conforms to approved specifications
  • begin procurement of major long-lead components and commodities
  • proceed with construction.

Although the United States has not built a new nuclear plant in some years, it has never stopped working on the large capital projects that are an ongoing part of maintaining and refurbishing the 100 existing reactors. For example, the industry has made major upgrades at many plants to boost the amount of electricity they produce. Also, Tennessee Valley Authority refurbished the Browns Ferry 1 reactor in a five-year, $1.9 billion project, on schedule and within budget. The reactor had been shut down since 1985, but was restarted in 2007 and provides electricity to serve 800,000 homes.

Industry Action

The NRC voted in February 2012 to grant a combined construction and operating license for two reactors at Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle, near Waynesboro. It is the first combined license ever approved for a U.S. nuclear energy facility, which will become the nation’s first new nuclear units built in 30 years.  One month later on March 30, 2012, the NRC issued combined construction and operating licenses to South Carolina Electric & Gas Company for two reactors near Jenkinsville, South Carolina.

Some 12 companies and consortia are studying, licensing or building 24 nuclear power reactors. There are now five new nuclear plants under construction in the United States (Watts Bar 2, Summer 2, Summer 3, Vogtle 3, Vogtle 4). The NRC is actively reviewing eight combined license applications from six companies and consortia for 12 new nuclear power plants.

Videos of the Summer and Vogtle Reactors Under Construction