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Nuclear Power: A Second Coming?

Here’s what’s driving the renaissance.

Fortnightly Magazine - February 2006

capacity would shut down prematurely because of competitive pressures. Who would have guessed that five years later, the industry would be thriving, profitable, and consistently recording average capacity factors in the 90-percent range, with the top quartile of plants operating above 97 percent? In the mid-1990s, who would have guessed that, by 2005, three-quarters of the U.S. nuclear fleet would have obtained 20-year license extensions, or planned to do so? In the mid- to late-1990s, who would have guessed that the president and the Congress would approve Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a suitable site for a used fuel storage and disposal facility? Or that states and local communities would compete among themselves, offering companies incentives to build new nuclear capacity?

Many factors have combined to bring nuclear power to the beginning of this new construction cycle: unsustainable pressure on natural gas supply and intense price volatility; increasing environmental pressures on coal-fired generating capacity, including the prospect of controls on greenhouse gas emissions; and, perhaps more than anything, the recognition among industry executives and policy-makers of the need for fuel and technology diversity, coupled with the recognition that all fuels and technologies have unique business challenges. The business challenges facing nuclear energy are not necessarily larger or more formidable than those facing coal or natural gas or any other source of power. They’re just different.

A prudent company, indeed a prudent nation, will balance those challenges by diversifying its portfolio.

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