Nuclear powerplant development in the U.K. and U.S. is moving forward with vigor. In the U.K., imminent eBay-style land sales will lead to the first major financial commitments by power companies in the nation’s emerging nuclear-plant program. In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is processing 17 applications for 26 possible new nuclear powerplants even as new questions arise over whether the government’s Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository will ever open.

Greenfield site next to NDA’s Bradwell powerplant is being auctioned for new units.
Photo: NDA
Greenfield site next to NDA’s Bradwell powerplant is being auctioned for new units.

Construction of a fleet of new plants in the U.K. is not expected to start until 2013, but nuclear power already seems to be fueling the otherwise gloomy jobs market. London-based contractor and service company Amec PLC, London, “is recruiting quite steadily [for] new build and maintenance,” says Harold Ashmore, spokesman for the firm’s nuclear division. Amec has decommissioning business at the Sellafield, Cumbria, nuclear-fuel plant.

For new construction, Amec is supporting Electricité de France (EdF) in efforts to get a U.K. license for a French reactor design. International interest in new U.K. facilities follows the government’s call a year ago for private investors to replace aging nuclear and fossil-fuel plants.

Greenfield sites next to three obsolete Magnox nuclear plants are scheduled for sale this month at a cost of several hundred million dollars. During the auction, undisclosed firms prequalified by the landowner, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), will track offers on a secure Website.

Land being offered adjoins NDA’s plants at Bradwell, Essex; Oldbury, Gloucestershire; and Wylfa, North Wales. Two of the plants are close to retirement, and the third is out of operation. Land next to NDA’s Sellafield facility will follow, says NDA chief spokesman Bill Hamilton.

NDA will not name firms that applied in January to bid. But companies announcing interest in building nuclear plants in the U.K. include Germany’s RWE A.G., Essen, in joint venture with E.ON A.G., Düsseldorf. And Paris-based GdF Suez is targeting the market jointly with Spain’s Iberdrola S.A. and Scottish & Southern Energy PLC., Perth

French government-controlled EdF recently secured a pivotal place in the emerging market by buying the U.K.’s largest nuclear-plant owner, British Energy Group PLC., East Kilbride.

EdF plans to import the 1,650 MW Areva European Passive Reactor, now undergoing generic design assessment with U.K. regulators. With owners of Canadian and Japanese nuclear technology pulling out of the assessment last year, the 1,150-MW Westinghouse-Toshiba AP1000 reactor is the only other contender.

According to the Nuclear Industry Association, the number of universities offering nuclear engineering courses has risen from one “a few years ago” to 12.

In the U.S., the Nuclear Energy Institute estimates that private investment in new nuclear plants has created 14,000 to 15,000 jobs. NEI says investment of more than $4 billion in new plant development will grow by about $8 billion more over the next several years as the industry drives to start construction in 2011-2012.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that, particularly in engineering disciplines—mechanical, for example—growing numbers of people are transitioning to opportunities in the nuclear field [from other industries] even in this early phase of the new era of nuclear-plant construction that is unfolding,” says Steve Kerekes, NEI spokesman.

Recent developments have moved the nuclear-power-development ball farther down the field. On Feb. 11, the South Carolina Public Service Commission unanimously approved South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.’s plans to construct two new 1,117-MW reactors at the site of the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station, Jenkinsville, S.C. The decision allows SCE&G to adjust electric rates for recovery of financing costs during construction. The two new units are scheduled to come on line in 2016 and 2019, respectively, at a total estimated cost of $9.8 billion.

The Dept. of Energy is doing its due diligence on 15 applications for nuclear- power construction loan guarantees under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The applications cover 16 reactors, and DOE has informed the applicants of their rankings in the competition for the guarantees, says Stephanie Mueller, DOE spokeswoman. “We have not eliminated any applicants from the Part II [due-diligence] process,” she says.