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Nuclear Power: Ask a Contrarian

Fortnightly Magazine - January 1 1997

The traditional approach to ownership, financing, construction, operation, and regulations will give way to something quite different. Entrepreneurs will bring fresh thinking. The stage is set for something new. Nuclear power may return in a new form (em possibly even filling a different market niche.

Time Will Tell

Can nuclear compete in price?

In the short run, operating plants will require competitive marginal costs (em both in fuel and in operations and maintenance. And I'm confident that the vast majority of plants can achieve that. Ever since Three Mile Island and the birth of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, nuclear plants have become safer and less expensive to operate.

In the longer term, the economic challenge must include capital costs. The competitive price including capital marks the great issue on the table before us.

In today's framework, that seems unachievable. But over the long term, as the energy story evolves, that challenge must not be seen as beyond reach. External factors could change drastically: Another oil crisis; a price spike for natural gas; a fuel crisis sparked by global climate change.

So it's not just my instinct as a contrarian that makes me doubt the Conventional Wisdom. It's also my training as a prudent businessman that reveals a world of possibility for nuclear power.

Then again, there is the Time magazine factor. Some months ago, Time ran a cover story suggesting that nuclear power was all but washed up. t

William H. Timbers, Jr., is president and CEO at U.S. Enrichment Corp. His comments are excerpted from remarks delivered at a conference sponsored by Energy Daily, entitled, "Nuclear Power: Making the Competitive Cut."

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