Wednesday AM September 26th, 2007

New Jersey company files plans to build two new nuclear reactors in Texas...National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales dropped for sixth straight month...Noble announces $2.4 million after-tax charge relating to last week's resignation of ex-chairman and CEO...

A New Jersey company has asked the federal government for permission to double the size of the nuclear plant in Bay City. It's part of a big push by the nuclear industry to expand nationwide--with some help from Congress. Eric Niiler has the story from Washington.

Niiler report

It's the first application for a new nuclear plant in nearly thirty years. NRG Energy filed papers with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The company estimates that the two additional reactors will supply enough electricity for over two million households in south central Texas, and cost nearly $7 billion. David Crane is President of NRG. At a Capitol Hill press conference, he said nuclear power is the best option to meet the state's soaring power demand.

"In Texas earlier this year, we faced a prospect of 18 traditional coal plants, which if built would have had as much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as the entire country of Argentina."

Crane predicts that Texas will lead the nation into a nuclear renaissance, as he called it. He expects another dozen applications for nuclear plants will soon follow. Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald welcomed the Bay City projects, and said the area's economy will get a boost.

"The construction of these two new units, they are going to put four to six thousand construction workers to work over a period of six to eight years. Once these units are on line, there are eight-hundred to a thousand new employees that'll come to our county. Many of them will be housed in our county. Many of them will be residents of our county."

Congress is looking for alternatives to fossil fuel to combat global warming. Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison says nuclear power is a solution. She promises to rally support in Congress and make sure the application is processed in time.

"We know that many of those from whom we import oil are not our friends, so we should be able to have our own resources developed for our own energy, and one of those is nuclear power. It's clean, it's reliable and it's abundant."

Environmentalists say nuclear power is dangerous, not to mention there's no permanent disposal site for nuclear waste. Ken Cramer heads the Sierra Club's Texas Chapter. He says nuclear plants could expose local residents to harmful radiation.

"The focus should be on renewable energy sources, such as wind power, solar power and some form of biomass. Texas has become the number one state in terms of production of wind power and we have a lot more ability to expand that in the next several years."

NRG plans to store nuclear waste from the Bay City plant on site. If federal officials approve its application, the new units would start in about 7 years. For Houston Public Radio, I'm Eric Niiler on Capitol Hill.


The downward spiral for home sales continues. The National Association of Realtors reports existing home sales dropped for a sixth straight month in August. The decline of 4.3 percent puts sales of previously-owned homes at the lowest level in five years. The housing market has been battered by the steepest downturn in 16 years. Those problems were made worse by turmoil in credit markets, reflecting new worries about rising defaults in sub-prime mortgages.


A new report says the decline in U.S. home prices picked up speed in July. The S&P Case Shiller Home Price Index had the biggest drop in 16 years. A gauge of 10 U.S. cities was down 4.5 percent in July from a year ago. A broader index of 20 cities fell 3.9 percent in July over last year, with 15 of 20 cities seeing lower prices. An accelerating decline in home prices has been seen since the beginning of the year.


Between concern about the job market and worries about the overall economy, consumer sentiment took a bit of a hit this month. The Conference Board says its Index of Consumer Confidence has dropped to the lowest level in nearly two years. The barometer fell to just below 100, down nearly six points from last month. That marks the lowest level for consumer confidence since November 2005.


Congressional Democrats have unveiled legislation to keep the government running until mid-November, giving them more time to bridge gaping differences with President Bush over the budget. The stopgap legislation is needed as the October 1st start of the fiscal year looms. None of the 12 annual spending bills, which fund government agencies and departments, have been passed into law. Only four of the annual appropriations bills have passed both House and Senate, and some lawmakers are already worried that the battles with the President could keep Congress in session until Christmas. The stopgap spending bill would fund at current levels the budgets of 15 cabinet departments and dozens of agencies until November 16th.


Offshore drilling contractor Noble announced it will likely have a $2.4 million after-tax charge in this year's third quarter. The matter relates to last week's abrupt resignation of ex-chairman and CEO Mark Jackson. Noble, in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it had agreed to make an approximately $1.3 million separation payment to Jackson. That involves one year's base salary, plus a bonus he could have earned under the Sugar Land-based company's 2007 short-term incentive plan. The charge, which amounts to about one cent per diluted share, includes the accelerated vesting of nonqualified stock options and time-vested restricted shares awarded to Jackson. The company gave no explanation for Jackson's departure, though the SEC filing said the decision was mutual.


Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and other oil companies operating in Nigeria may have to give the government a greater share of revenue from deepwater oil production, according to Bloomberg. The companies are working on contracts that allow them to operate without a joint venture with the government, paying royalties once the cost of developing is fully recovered. Nigeria wants to amend the agreements, signed when oil was below $20 a barrel.


Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have won two new air routes to China's financial and manufacturing capitals. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters made the announcement at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. An agreement was signed in July to double the number of daily flights between the U.S. and China over the next five years. Atlanta-based Delta will fly a route from Atlanta to Shanghai available in April. Chicago-based United will fly a route between Guangzhou and Fan Francisco starting in 2008. Other U.S./China routes have been proposed for 2009. The public comment period has begun. They are New York to Shanghai for Houston-based Continental Airlines, and Detroit to Shanghai for Northwest Airlines. They also include Chicago to Beijing for Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Philadelphia to Beijing for U.S. Airways.


AT&T has suspended a service allowing parents to put limits on when their children's wireless phones can be used. San Antonio-based AT&T has learned the service could restrict return calls from 911 operators. AT&T's Smart Limits service allows a child to call 911 even when restrictions are in effect. But if a child called 911 and was then disconnected during restricted hours, a 911 operator would not be able to call back. Spokesman Michael Coe says the company has no indication that this has ever occurred. AT&T suspended the service Saturday, is notifying customers and will credit their accounts. The service began earlier this month and is offered as an add-on for $4.99 per month per line. Coe said AT&T will restart the service as soon as it resolves the problem.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...