In September, the Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy filed a combined construction and operating license application (COL) with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. If approved, the company will build and operate two new nuclear units at its South Texas Project nuclear power station site.

The total rated capacity of the new units will equal or exceed 2,700 megawatts (MW), enough to power more than 2 million homes. The units would be operational in 2014 and 2015.

What is most significant about the application is the trend it represents. It is the first nuclear plant license application in 29 years. While the American energy-consuming public never warmed up to nuclear power, that relationship cooled considerably after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

However, a number of factors have changed since then, which may lead toward resurgence, of sorts, in the industry. Not the least of these has been the growing worldwide concern about global warming. Compounding this has been the rising worldwide demand for electricity and the costs to produce it.

The nuclear power industry believes it can offer a solution. While nuclear power has a unique set of issues concerning disposal of waste, it offers one distinct advantage over its rivals. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), it is the only large-scale source of power that boasts zero emissions of greenhouse gases. At less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, it is also the cheapest to produce. Of course, the drawback to the technology is still the disposal of the nuclear waste.

In a significant turn, energy developers are also catching on. NEI reports that 17 companies or groups of companies are in various stages of submitting COL applications to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These applications represent as many as 31 new nuclear reactors. The first plants could start commercial operation as early as 2015.   EC