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Changing the Fuel Mix: Time for a Nuclear Rescue?

Gas-fired power is king today, but fuel diversity needs and new technologies may open the door for nuclear and coal.
Fortnightly Magazine - September 1 2002

initiative to improve NRC's reactor inspection and oversight program.

Rather than building new plants and dealing with the resulting political backlash, nuclear plant ow ners are instead looking toward increasing the life span of plants already built. Nuclear plant license renewal streamlining by the NRC also allowed costs to be brought down by enabling the owner to clear t he licensing process in a reasonable time period, while adding 20 years to the life of the plant. So f ar, the licenses that have been renewed include the three Oconee units in South Carolina, Arkansas Nuc lear Unit 1, and Hatch 1 and 2 in Georgia.

Fifteen license renewal applications currently are being processed, including Florida's Turkey Point 3 and 4 and St. Lucie 1 and 2, all in Florida, the Surry and North Anna plants in Virginia, and McGuir e 1 and 2 and Catawba in North Carolina. The NRC also anticipates processing 20 more applications, som e for multiple reactors, in the next few years.

Another cost-saving factor for nuclear plants has to do with power uprates, which allows increased electricity to be produced at an already existing plant. "The NRC has completed over 70 power uprate reviews for approximately 9,800 megawatts, or an equivalent of three nuclear plants," Diaz said. NRC staff expects licensees will submit 35 more power uprate requests in the next five years, resulting in 1,590 megawatts of added capacity. Also, upgrades totaling 20 percent increases in full power to p lants are under consideration, with one already granted.

Early Site Permits

So it remains to be seen whether brand-new nuclear plants of any technology will be built in the Uni ted States, notwithstanding issues concerning nuclear waste transportation and storage. Recent activit y in Congress toward passage of a bill allowing storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain adds to hope s in the nuclear industry that a main stumbling block will be removed.

Those in the nuclear industry remain optimistic. On April 16 of this year, Entergy, which operates n ine nuclear units at seven plant sites, announced that it plans to prepare an early site permit at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson, Mississippi, in order to keep the option open for a new ad vanced nuclear reactor to be built.

"We have not made a decision to start building a new nuclear unit," stressed Randy Hutchinson, a sen ior vice president of business development at Entergy. But he likes keeping that option open for the sa ke of customers, the company, and the nation's energy independence. "Almost all new power plants being built will run on natural gas," he said, "and that puts this country's future supply of electricity at some risk."

The early site permit process marks the first step in the new, streamlined licensing process impleme nted by the NRC to reduce the regulatory uncertainty. It allows a company to complete environmental and ot her site-specific work prior to making a final decision to build. An early site permit, which is valid for 20 years, does not permit