Energy Business

A Massive Expansion Of Nuclear Projects?

Fresh support among Republican senators for a massive expansion of nuclear projects is unlikely as proposed, but it’s an indication of the concessions needed for Democrats to pass their energy reform bill.

That could be a boon for companies including NRG Energy Inc. (NYSE: NRG), Scana Corp. (NYSE: SCG) and Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), all of which are working on next-generation nuclear reactors they hope to start building by as soon as 2011.

They are likely to become the next trendy energy plays, now that T. Boone Pickens’ idea for the world’s largest wind farm has blown over.

Just days after Democrats passed the Waxman-Harkey climate change bill in the House, the Republicans are voicing support for a radically different proposal that would double the nation’s nuclear capacity.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said Monday he supports construction of 100 new nuclear power plants in 20 years, bumping nuclear to 40 percent of U.S. electricity production. He says it would be the basis of a cheap, clean energy policy that would create more jobs than the Waxman-Harkey bill.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. can really afford 100 nuke plants. It seems unlikely, given the threat posed by 44 percent debt to GDP, and the ongoing budget struggles to maintain basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

But in one form or another, energy reform will need more support to gain passage. There will be no Republican support for issues like greenhouse gas emission allowances if the Democrats don’t step up their nuclear support.

Building 100 plants seems like a pipe dream, but even if it’s 10, that represents potential billions for companies like NRG, Scana and Southern.

Mike Tarsala.