DOE loan guarantees possible this summer

-- Chu (06/03/2009)

Ben Geman, E&E senior reporter
The Energy Department could begin approving loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors this summer, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said today.
The nuclear industry is seeking the guarantees, which cover up to 80 percent of project costs, to help launch construction of the first new U.S. nuclear reactors in decades.
"These are very complex decisions, there are other agencies within the government that have to approve of these issues, but that is what we are working toward," Chu told reporters after his testimony to a House committee.
Chu has made a top priority of accelerating the loan-guarantee program for low-emissions energy projects, which was authorized in a 2005 energy law.
DOE currently has $18.5 billion available for nuclear-plant financing, which would help fund three to four plants, Chu said. But utilities and other companies are eyeing a much bigger build-out.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received license applications to build more than two dozen new reactors and expects to receive a total of 22 applications to build 33 new reactors during the 2007-11 period, according to a chart of applications on its Web site.
Chu did not rule out seeking more funding for nuclear loan guarantees, but he also emphasized the need to speed up NRC's licensing process. "Right now, we are going to remain focused on getting the funding approval and the loans for those plants," he said. "We will see what happens next."
Receiving a DOE commitment does not guarantee plant construction, because developers would need to secure NRC licenses and funding for the remaining costs.