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Face-Off: The Renaissance of Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is on the verge of an extraordinary expansion.
Fortnightly Magazine - June 15 2003

with the possibility of climbing further, the veracity of projections of large numbers of natural gas power plants must be questioned. These projections of natural gas capacity additions simply reflect today's conventional wisdom. And today's conventional wisdom is of no value when natural gas prices per million Btu have nearly tripled in the last five years, and have at least briefly approached double-digit levels.

The Path Forward

Relicensing of the existing plants and the up-rating of additional plants will continue commercial nuclear power's renaissance. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), in its publication, expects the industry to add 10,000 MW of capacity through increased efficiency and improved performance of the existing 103 reactors. But NEI also states that a cornerstone of the nuclear industry's vision is to add 50,000 MW of new generating capacity by 2020. 11

Complementing the industry vision is the DOE's Nuclear Power 2010 initiative to bring a new U.S. nuclear power plant online by the end of the decade.

The DOE is providing modest financial support to Exelon Nuclear, Entergy Nuclear, and Dominion Resources in the preparation and submittal of early site permit applications to the NRC. These applications will focus on sites that host operating nuclear power plants, but which were originally licensed or designed to host additional reactors. The department also has funded "scoping" studies analyzing both private and federal sites as potential locations of new nuclear plants. Identifying and obtaining NRC permits for acceptable sites will answer the question of where to build the first new nuclear plants and remove a major hurdle to building new nuclear plants.

DOE also will offer to share the cost of demonstrating the new regulatory process that enables utilities to obtain combined construction-operating licenses. DOE states that providing a one-step licensing process will remove a major risk in investing in new nuclear plants. Other initiatives undertaken by the department and Congress to support the renaissance of nuclear power are:

  • The affirmation of Yucca Mountain as the site of a permanent spent nuclear fuel repository. This will allow nuclear plant owners to move spent nuclear fuel from the more than 70 nuclear plant sites with temporary storage facilities to a single site that is a permanent storage facility.
  • Reauthorization of the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the liability of nuclear plant owners in a catastrophic nuclear event. While the conditions of such an event occurring has not been formulated and presented, its existence is a precondition for investment in new nuclear power plants.

In addition to federal government support for nuclear energy, there appears to be at least lukewarm public support for the construction of new nuclear power plants. According to NEI's , two-thirds of those surveyed support the continued and increased use of nuclear energy, with 27 percent of those surveyed opposed. Also, the president, vice president, secretary of energy and other members of the administration have issued strong statements in support of nuclear energy, most prominently in the president's national energy policy.

What is holding up new plant construction? Except for timing new investments to coincide with the ups and