Top nuclear official: New reactor approvals possible this year

The country’s top nuclear power regulator said this week that the federal government could approve applications for new nuclear reactors by the end of the year.

“That’s certainly possible and it's something that as we continue to make progress on our reviews is possible," Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in an interview with Platts Energy Week.

The approvals could pave the way for construction to begin on the first new nuclear reactor in the United States in decades. The comments come as President Obama has stressed his support for nuclear power as a way of lowering the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama outlined a proposal for getting 80 percent of the country’s electricity from zero- or low-carbon energy sources by 2035. Nuclear, along with wind, solar, natural gas and others, would be included in such a clean energy standard.

“Potentially we could be looking at finalizing some of the design reviews in the late summer and after that there’s a few things that would have to happen for the final design approvals or the final license approvals,” Jaczko said in an interview that ran Sunday, but was taped earlier in the week. “And that could happen possibly by the end of this year.”

But Jaczko stressed that the commission will continue to focus on safety. “We can never do enough to make sure we have the right approach to safety,” he said.

House Republicans have said they plan to focus this year on streamlining the regulatory process at the NRC, arguing it is too burdensome. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) criticized the process last month.

"Gone are the days of reasonable expectations for a stable and predictable regulatory process," Upton said. "This uncertainty and lack of transparency in the process is needlessly putting plants and thousands of jobs at risk.”

“The NRC must do better as nuclear power is critical as we seek to meet our nation's growing energy demands through an 'all of the above' approach,” he continued.