Utility companies UniStar Nuclear Energy LLC, NRG Energy Inc., Scana Corp and Southern Co., are likely to be the government's picks for building the next generation of nuclear reactors in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal citing interviews to government and energy companies officials as well as reactor vendors.

According to the paper, these companies will divide guarantees for federal loans of $18.5 billion allocated for advanced nuclear projects by the Department of Energy. The DOE has not made any announcements on who will be granted loan guarantees, and has not determined timing for making them, spokesman Ebony Meeks said Wednesday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the companies were finalists for the loan guarantees but no decision had been reached on whether or not they will receive the funds, spokesman Scott Burnell said.

The first round of building would add about 7 new reactors to the current 104 operating commercially, the paper reported. Construction for the reactors would start in 2011 and likely begin operations by 2015 or 2016, the paper noted. The last nuclear plant to be completed in the U.S. went on line in 1996, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Nuclear power generation has been strongly considered by the Obama administration which wants the U.S. to lead in clean energy technologies to create jobs, reduce the nation’s effect on climate change and contribute to energy independence and national security.

Yesterday in a move to expand nuclear energy facilities in the U.S., the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed an amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 endorsing nuclear energy as clean and secure.

The amendment also calls for the federal government to fulfill its obligation to manage used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.