The Nuclear Regulatory Commission next week is expected to give Virginia Electric & Power Co., a license to begin test operation of its North Anna 2 nuclear power plant.
The Vepco plant was completed last summer but has been sitting idle ever since because of an NRC moratorium on licensing new atomic plants.
If the North Anna plant gets its license it will be only the second plant to be licensed since the Three Mile Island accident more than a year ago. The federal nuclear agency ended its moratorium three weeks ago by granting a start-up license to the Sequoyah plant owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Granting of the start-up license could mean Vepco's customers will get some relief from the huge electric bills they have been paying lately because of problems with Vepco's nuclear plants.
The North Anna plant has been unable to start operations and two other nuclear units have been down for repairs. Vepco has had to purchase electricity from other companies at high prices.
The North Anna application has not been put on the NRC's formal agenda, but staff members said action is expected next week.
The agency's staff is recommending granting Vepco a license to begin "zero power" operation of the North Anna plant. That would allow Vepco to fuel the reactor with uranium for the first time.
If the plant works the way it is supposed to and Vepco complies with some procedural steps ordered by the NRC, North Anna would then be allowed to operate at up to 5 percent of capacity.
The no-power and low-power tests would each take about two months, if all goes well. That would mean North Anna could be producing electricity by late summer.