Duke Energy suspends effort to license N. Carolina nuclear units

May 2 (Reuters) - Duke Energy, the largest U.S. electric utility, said it notified regulators on Thursday that it will drop plans to build two new nuclear reactors in North Carolina due to slow growth in power demand.

Progress Energy, which Duke acquired last year, proposed building two AP1000 reactors at the Harris nuclear plant site in Wake County, North Carolina, and submitted an application in 2008 for a construction and operating license from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Duke officials are expected to discuss the Harris decision Friday when Duke’s first-quarter earnings are reported.

Dhiaa Jamil, president of Duke Energy Nuclear, said Duke has sufficient generation to serve customers in North and South Carolina for many years even as the company retires older coal-fired plants.

The company’s supply forecast indicates additional nuclear generation won’t be needed at Harris for at least 15 years.

“The Harris site is well-suited for new nuclear generation and has not been eliminated from our long-term consideration as a site to expand our nuclear fleet,” Jamil said in a release.

The once-predicted revival of U.S. nuclear construction has been tempered by lower natural gas prices, anemic growth in electric demand and the absence of limits on emissions of carbon dioxide.

In February, Duke said its Progress Energy Florida utility would retire, rather than repair, the heavily damaged Crystal River reactor in Florida.

Duke said it will continue to work to obtain NRC licenses for two new reactors at the Levy site in Levy County, Florida, and another two reactors at the W.S. Lee site in Gaffney, South Carolina.

Since Jan. 1, 2011, Duke said it has spent nearly $334 million on the Lee nuclear proposal, according to a filing with state regulators.

Four new reactors are currently under construction at two sites in the southeastern United States: two at Scana Corp’s Summer nuclear station in South Carolina and two at Southern Co’s Vogtle station in Georgia.

While a number of companies continue to pursue NRC approval to develop new reactors, none has committed to actually build another new reactor.

Last year, the NRC said it would not issue licenses for new reactors until it satisfies a federal court order related to nuclear waste rules, a delay expected to last at least two years.

A decision from the NRC on the Levy license application had been expected this year while a timeline for the Lee application was being revised, according to an NRC website.