U.S. Nuclear Power: Site Selection Due Diligence More Important Than Ever

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By Jay Vincent, The Saint Consulting Group
Senior Vice President – Energy Sector, Practice Leader

Undoubtedly, the use of nuclear power has been forever changed with the earthquake disaster in Japan. The impacts, while unclear in Japan, are very clear in the United States. Current operators are under scrutiny from all levels of governments. That is not going to change in the short term.

In my view, it is only going to get more difficult for developers of new nuclear power sources. Despite support in public polling for new nuclear energy, the path towards permission is tougher today than it was before Fukushima.  This is an even more troublesome fact in a growing NIMBY political climate that takes particular aim at energy projects of all shapes and sizes.

While not new, take a look at the process for receiving site approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and perhaps you will see how even that simple process if fraught with peril for any developer.  The NRC requires nuclear power developers to apply for an “Early Site Permit” or ESP.  This ESP is the first step in determining if a site is suitable for a nuclear power plant.  The ESP addresses:

  1. Site safety issues
  2. Environmental protection issues
  3. Ability to cope with emergency management issues

This first permit is really a test of the site, but now more than ever it is also a test of the willingness of the local jurisdiction within which it will reside to accept it.  The challenge is of course not a technical one.  Rarely do companies even bother applying for any permit for a site that is deemed marginal from a technical perspective.  There is just simply too much expense associated with the regulatory process to bother with a marginal site. So, by the time an ESP is applied for, the company has really begun to invest in a given site or sites.

With an ESP application comes another dynamic – the public meeting or worse – the public hearing.  During the ESP process, the NRC notifies all stakeholders including the public as to how and when they may participate in the regulatory process.  The process will certainly include public meetings and the NRC goes to great lengths to notify stakeholders.  But it may also include a public hearing if requested.  Here, the NRC really makes the process easy by providing a guide on how to get a public hearing triggered:   opportunities to request a hearing.

With a playbook for triggering a public hearing so readily available and a general public so concerned about permitting nuclear power, conducting due diligence on a site or a series of sites is more important than ever.  If you need to get the heart of the issues that may confront your project, call Jay Vincent at 312-212-8889 to request a copy of a redacted due diligence scope report.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president and energy practice business leader for The Saint Consulting Group, email vincent@tscg.biz, phone 312.970.5770 ext: 7501

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