BNFL unit plans US nuclear reactor

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The Independent Online

A quarter of a century after the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown which almost ended in disaster, a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels is part of a consortium bidding to build the first US atomic power plant since the incident.

A quarter of a century after the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown which almost ended in disaster, a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels is part of a consortium bidding to build the first US atomic power plant since the incident.

Westinghouse, the US arm of BNFL, is part of a seven-member consortium that announced yesterday it was planning to apply for a licence to build a plant.

The application is due to be submitted by 2008 and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to make a decision two years after that. Any of the consortium's members could then build a plant under the license.

Craig Nesbit, a spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, a division of Exelon Corp, America's largest operator of nuclear power plants and a member of the consortium, said: "We want to demonstrate there's broad interest in the industry for pursuing a combined operating licence."

No company has followed through with a plan to build a nuclear reactor since the incident at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, on 28 March, 1979. At about 4am that day, a valve inside reactor number 2 stuck in the "open" position and coolant started leaking from the core, causing the reactor to overheat. As a result, uranium in the core of the reactor began to melt and radioactive gas started leaking into the atmosphere. The veteran CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite began his broadcast that evening by calling the accident "the first step in a nuclear nightmare".

In addition to Westinghouse and Exelon, the companies in the consortium are Entergy Corp, Constellation Energy Group, Southern Co, the French state-owned electric company Electricite de France, and General Electric Co.

Each energy company is expected to contribute to the consortium about $1m a year in cash plus other services, totaling about $7m over seven years per company, according to a statement from Entergy.

Mr Nesbit said the projected cost of a plant was unclear. "Nobody really knows," he said.

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