Last updated: February 16. 2013 5:29AM - 1453 Views

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PPL has not decided whether it will build a new nuclear reactor next to its Susquehanna plant in Salem Township, but the company is applying for permits as if it were.

The power company has asked permission from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to withdraw water from the Susquehanna during construction of the new Bell Bend reactor.

PPL submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permits to build and operate the single-reactor plant in 2008, and the company does not expect a decision from the NRC until 2013 or 2014, PPL spokesman Joe Scopelliti said.

??This is just part of a process going forward,? Scopelliti said. ??We??re working through that process to where we have to make a final decision of whether were going to build. At the end of that process we??ll have an application approval and we??ll have to look at the conditions at that time. At this point a decision on whether to build or not is probably a couple of years down the timeline.?

PPL hopes to build the plant to supply future energy demand created in part by older reactors and power plants being taken offline. The electricity it generates would feed into the PJM Interconnect and be available for open-market purchase in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

??We??ve got to look to the future because if you??ve got a need for the electricity it takes a couple years for the electricity to be ready to use,? Scopelliti said. ??We??ve constantly got to be looking to the future and what demand in the area may be.?

The plant would be built next to the existing two reactors at the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Salem Township on the west side of Confers Lane. Its capacity would be about 1,600 megawatts, bringing the three-reactor total to about 4,000 megawatts, or enough to power more than 3 million homes.

It would be powered by the Evolutionary Power Reactor, a new form of reactor designed by AREVA of France that its designer touts as being safer and more efficient than older reactor types.

Similar reactors are under construction in Finland, France and China, but it has not yet been approved for construction in the United States. The reactor design is going through an NRC application process on the same timetable as PPL??s application, Scopelliti said.

The new plant would cost between $13 billion and $15 billion to build with construction taking at least five years, according to PPL, making it unlikely the plant would come online before 2020.

But whether the plant is actually built depends on a large number of variables, Scopelliti said, with the availability of a federal Department of Energy loan guarantee being a primary determining factor.

Bell Bend has not been selected by the department to negotiate a federally backed loan, necessary due to the immense cost of the project, since PPL completed its application in 2009, but the company continues to resubmit its application in each biannual grant cycle, Scopelliti said.

PPL will also not go forward without private-sector partners, and those partnerships have not been secured yet either, he added.

According to Scopelliti, other factors that will influence the company??s decision include:

? The price of electricity.

? The price of competitive fuels.

? Regulatory changes brought on by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan.

? Potential changes in design and their associated costs.

? Economic conditions.

Wagiha Taylor, a professor of international business and economics at Wilkes University, said increasing production by building the reactor could be a major advantage for PPL in the long run; but, in the short term, the company may face trouble attracting investors because its high price tag means investors will need to wait much longer to see a return.

??With the economy the way it is now, this is a hard time,? she said. ??I would say in a couple years from now, when the economy picks up at a much better speed, and when the election is over and things settle down in Europe. But this is not a very stable time to be making major decisions like this.?

The new plant would cost between $13 billion and $15 billion to build with construction taking at least five years.

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