After a 10-year hiatus, the U.S. nuclear-power industry is poised to expand. Three consortiums covering 18 power companies will begin preparing licensing applications this year for 14 new nuclear plants in the Southeast, according to Mitch Singer, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s policy and lobbying organization. A 15th plant might be sought by Progress Energy (PGN) and Duke Energy (DUK), both based in North Carolina. The last of the 103 operating nuclear plants built in the U.S. is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar reactor, opened in June 1996. Back then, gasoline sold for less than $1.30 a gallon, and natural gas retailed for about 41 cents per therm. Nuclear plants which had high construction, regulatory and maintenance costs, as well as plenty of opposition from environmental groups had trouble competing with natural-gas-fired generating plants. Incentives to Build A lot has changed. Natural-gas prices have soared, approaching $1.80 per therm in some areas. Congress also has reduced regulatory costs by streamlining the nuclear- plant approval process into two steps, reducing the number of occasions that opponents can try to block applications. And last year’s energy bill contained two big carrots for investors to help reduce the cost of raising capital for plant construction: First, the government will guarantee certain debt payments against unforeseen delays in construction and operation. Second, the legislation provides plants started before 2021 with a production tax credit of $18 per megawatt hour. That translates into $5 billion to $6 billion of economic benefit, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Since the construction cost of a new plant will be about $1.8 billion, returns could be 30% to 36% from tax benefits alone. The Contenders Companies expected to send siteapproval applications to the Department of Energy by 2009 include: Dominion Resources (D), Entergy (ETR), Southern Co. (SO), Constellation Energy (CEG), Exelon (EXC) and Duke Energy. The Tennessee Valley Authority also is expected to apply for site approval with a number of partners: Constellation Energy; Duke; EDF International North America, an affiliate of EDF Group; Entergy; Exelon; Southern Co.; the GE Energy unit of General Electric (GE); Progress Energy; Westinghouse Electric, a unit of British Nuclear Fuels; and Florida Power & Light, a unit of FPL Group (FPL). If sites are approved, each company will pick a plant design that has been pre-approved by the Department of Energy and a reactor manufactured by GE, Westinghouse or Framatome-ANP, a subsidiary of France’s Areva. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!