Prospects for a second nuclear reactor at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant may not be as quick or as certain as Gov. Jay Nixon indicated in last week's surprise press conference on the steps of the Governor's Mansion.
In a press release from the governor's office, Nixon referred to his announcement as "a historic agreement with a consortium of Missouri electric utilities that have agreed to seek an early site permit to build a second, state-of-the-art nuclear facility at AmerenUE's Callaway County location."
In his press release, Nixon said his announcement "represents a significant shift in strategy for utilities, and a significant victory for Missouri ratepayers."
But Mike Cleary, an Ameren Missouri spokesman, said the St. Louis-based utility has not decided to build a second nuclear reactor.
The entire process for building a second reactor - including a site permit, license for a reactor, construction and operating permit - can take from 13 to 15 years.
Cleary said Ameren Missouri has identified a need for a new baseload power generation plant by 2020 but it has not yet determined whether it will be fired by coal, natural gas or nuclear.
Warner L. Baxter, president and chief executive officer of Ameren Missouri, said his company supports the governor's call for legislation that will keep open the option of a second nuclear power plant in Missouri.
In a statement, Baxter did not commit to a second nuclear reactor but only as an option in the future.
"Given the uncertainties regarding how best to replace aging power plants," Baxter said, "the potential impact of anticipated EPA regulations, and continued consideration at the federal level of carbon tax proposals, Ameren Missouri believes strongly that our state must keep all options on the table - including additional nuclear power generation."
Cleary said even though a decision to build a second nuclear reactor has not yet been made, obtaining a nuclear site permit is necessary before a decision to seek a license to build a second nuclear reactor can be made. The process for the nuclear option is extremely lengthy. Even a site permit can take up to four years for approval.
Ameren Missouri must match its future need for more baseload power generation with what is feasible. It wants to keep the nuclear option open but the long lead time for securing permits, licenses and construction of nuclear plants can last up to 15 years. When time runs out, the nuclear option may no longer be possible when new baseload generation is required.
A baseload power plant is one that can generate electrical power 24 hours a day. Although operating costs or more than nuclear, natural gas and coal are current options beside nuclear for baseload generation plants.
Ameren is required by law to generate some of its electrical power by alternative energy such as wind and solar.
But wind and solar are more expensive to operate and don't qualify as a dependable baseload plant that is necessary to assure availability of power throughout the day and night.
That's not possible with wind or solar power generation because the flow of electricity stops when the sun goes down every night and there is no electricity generated when the wind does not blow strong enough to turn turbines that generate electricity.