A Maryland company is next in line for a federal loan that would finance a multibillion-dollar nuclear reactor in Calvert County, Rep. Steny Hoyer said.

The Department of Energy has the authority to finance one nuclear project, and UniStar Nuclear Energy -- a joint venture between Maryland's Constellation Energy Group and a French company -- is "first in line" for the money, the Maryland Democrat and House majority leader said.

The new project would be built at Constellation's nuclear plant at Calvert Cliffs, which is now home to two reactors.

The Energy Department could commit as much as $10 billion -- the amount remaining in its $18.5 billion nuclear energy fund after financing two reactors in Georgia.

Loan analysts consider nuclear reactors risky investments, making it difficult for energy companies to wrangle manageable interest rates -- or find funding at all -- for the costly projects.

Nuclear power critics cite a 2003 Congressional Budget Office report estimating a 50 percent failure rate for new nuclear projects. If UniStar wins federal approval and later defaults on the loan, taxpayers would cover the loss.

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf has said the failure rate isn't a solid indicator, however, because it was reported before clean energy incentives -- including the loan-guarantee program -- were created.

If UniStar wins loan approval, a groundbreaking at Calvert Cliffs is still years away. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission won't begin reviewing UniStar's licensing application until 2012, Biemer said.