Luminant Energy, the new owner of the old TXU, came to town promising not only to go green (it’s the largest producer of wind power in the state right now) but to be prudent with ratepayers’ dollars. So while Static gives the big L kudos for its wind generators, it’s damned puzzled as to why the company is taking a huge financial risk in applying for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to add two new reactors at its Comanche Peak nuke plant – even before the NRC has approved Mitsubishi Industries’ design for the new reactors, a process that could take three years.

Stephen Monarque, the NRC’s license project manager, said the agency’s safety evaluation of the Japanese-built reactor likely won’t be completed until September 2011. NRC regs allow a utility to apply for a license for a reactor whose design hasn’t been approved, but the applicant does so “at its own risk,” Monarque said. And even though the Mitsubishi reactor has been in use in Japan for a number of years, that’s by no means a guarantee that it will be approved for use in this country, he said.

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Luminant “cannot start to build at Comanche Peak until the final approval,” Monarque said. “There is a lot of work ahead, an incredible amount of review work,” before the NRC satisfies itself as to the safety of the Mitsubishi design.

Why make that gamble? No one at the utility returned calls before press time, but Luminant is bound to be asked this question on Jan. 6, when the licensing process will formally begin with two environmental “scoping” meetings in Glen Rose at the Expo Center, 202 Bo Gibbs Blvd., from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.

This will be the public’s first chance to address environmental issues surrounding Luminant’s decision to add the two 1,700-megawatt reactors to the plant’s existing two, according to NRC Environmental Project Manager Michael Willingham. “We want to hear from the public about any local environmental concerns they have that we may not be aware of,” he said. The utility has already submitted its draft environmental review (available on the NRC web site, www.nrc.go/reactors/new-reactors/col/comanche-peak.) but the NRC “wants to hear from the people who live there,” Willingham said.

‘Course, the public might have missed this opportunity if it was busy doing other stuff like going to midnight mass or playing Santa Claus when the NRC put out its first press release about the meeting – on Christmas Eve. Asked about such inopportune timing, Willingham said that was simply the earliest the NRC could get the info out. “Strangely enough, we have had more responses to this news release than any others in our past history,” he said.

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