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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

construction of a nuclear plant; rather, it allows a company to be prepared in case the nuclear option gains steam, while engaging in a licensing process that is predictable, timely, a nd efficient.

Hutchinson said the decision on whether to build a nuclear plant will depend on economic condi tions in three to five years, based on regional power demand, certification of advanced reactor d esigns, power prices from competing generation resources, and expected cost of power from a new nu clear unit.

Early site permit applications also support the Bush administration's Nuclear 2010 program, whi ch calls for construction of new nuclear plants by that date to reduce American energy dependency f rom imported natural gas and oil. Under the program, the DOE is offering to share the cost of prepar ing an early site permit with nuclear power operating companies.

Two other nuclear operating companies, Dominion Resources and Exelon, also have expressed interes t in seeking early site permits at their existing sites. According to Richard Zuercher, a spokesman f or Dominion Energy, the company has told the NRC it plans to file an early site permit application i n the fall of 2003 for its North Anna nuclear plant site in Louisa County, Va. "We're putting the appli cation together, but that's it right now," Zuercher said. But there is room-the North Anna site holds t wo reactors, but originally was designed for four.

Exelon Generation selected its Clinton nuclear plant in Illinois as the site where it would put a ne w reactor. It chose the Clinton site because it, too, originally was scheduled for more than the one re actor it now holds.

The suppliers already are jockeying for position, should an order be placed for a nuclear plant. Ro ger Gale, a partner in GF Energy who represents Canada-based AECL Technologies, is touting AECL's next generation CANDU reactor, the ACR-700. The ACR-700's features, such as the steam and turbine generat or systems, are similar to those in pressurized water reactors. But its design makes it less expensiv e to build. Gale points out that the ACR-700 is the first reactor to be sold at a fixed price-install ed for $1,000/kW for two 700-MW units. He compares that to General Electric's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), which costs about $1,400/kW, while the AP1000 would be priced at between $1,200 to $1, 400/kW.

Gale says the key is being competitive to gas. He estimates a price of $2,010/kW to build a gas-fir ed plant. "If the price of gas is low, no one will build a nuclear plant-end of story," Gale concludes . "But if the price of gas is at $3.50 in 2010 or higher, then a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant can make it."

Gale points out that the ACR-700 is in competition with the AP1000 for British Energy's planned re placements of all 14 of their reactors in the United Kingdom. "Take this with a bit of bias if you wan t," Gale said, "but there are really three contenders for the next generation nuclear plant-if there