The merger voltage (I) is rising on the electric grid, but it remains to be seen which will win out: current (E) policy or resistance (R) to it.
Changing the Fuel Mix: Time for a Nuclear Rescue?
lessons learned in the nuclear industry is that custo mized designs can create inefficiencies, duplication of efforts, and higher costs. That understanding brought about the fundamental change and move toward design standardization.
Standardization allows incorporation of the latest technologies, while making the plants easier to operate and faster to build. Not only does standardization translate into cheaper power; but the pla nts also will achieve even higher safety ratings than today's nuclear plants, which are mostly one-o f-a-kind.
But for proof of the benefits of standardization, one must look overseas. To bolster NEI's argument that standardization lowers costs and leads to greater efficiencies in all aspects of nuclear plant o peration including safety, maintenance training, and spare parts procurement, it turns to France.
NEI points out that France built 34 standardized 900-MW units and 20 standardized 1,300-MW units ove r the past two decades, which supply about 75 percent of the electricity to the French. It credits sta ndardization for cutting construction times significantly. For example, the first reactor in the 900-MW series took seven years to build, while the last reactor took only five years. NEI adds that because of standardization, the cost of nuclear power plants in France is among the lowest in the world.
NEI holds out high hopes for the AP600, noting that it will need 50 percent less building volume, 5 0 percent fewer valves, 80 percent fewer pipes, 35 percent fewer large pumps, and 70 percent less cont rol cable. Also, quick construction would be enhanced because many systems will be assembled in the fac tory, not on-site, further cutting costs. Finally, the construction timetable for AP600 nuclear plants i s estimated at three years.
But for now, the United States still is stymied in efforts to construct new nuclear plants. The last nuclear reactor ordered for a commercial power plant in the United States was in 1978. As Asia adds nu clear plants, and Finland's parliament in May approved the building of its fifth nuclear plant, the U.S . going forward is sticking to extending the life of some of its 103 operating nuclear plants, which su pply 20 percent of the nation's electricity.
Use What You've Got
Many U.S. owners of nuclear plants are finding the best strategy is to apply to renew their operat ing licenses beyond the original 40-year terms, and also to increase output via use of enhanced technol ogies.
NRC commissioner Nils J. Diaz addressed the pressure that reactor licensees are under to reduce or c ontain costs to remain competitive at a meeting of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (SEARUC) in June 2002. He pointed to license fees levied on plant owners by the NRC as a primary example of direct costs, while indirect costs include those cost impacts arising from regulatory actions taken by the NRC. In an effort to make power produced by nuclear plants more affordable, Diaz explained that the NRC has initiated several actions to reduce regulatory burdens and thus cut costs. That includes an initiative to improve its regulatory system, and another