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Five Nuclear Challenges

Building reactors requires new federal commitment.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2009

delay the start of construction by a year and make sure everything is ready than to delay the completion of construction as re-work consumes the budget and the owner’s finances. The old adage of measure twice and cut once applies here.

Also, project owners should understand that on-site concrete, welding, and electrical construction will be the work that’s most likely to delay the project, rather than the off-site manufacturing of nuclear components. The industry learned that contractors have a propensity to take shortcuts with concrete and the regulator has a habit of catching them. This phenomenon repeatedly was experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, and similar events currently are taking place in Europe.

Finally, project sponsors should share the risks. For the first few new nuclear plants, find utility partners willing to take a partial stake in the new investment. One utility should take the lead, while other members participate in supporting roles. In the past, a number of investor-owned utilities (IOU) shared ownership with other IOUs, municipals, and cooperatives. 33 Some, like CMS Energy, even shared their production economics with nearby industrial partners.

Nuclear Commitment

No U.S. company firmly has committed to constructing a new U.S. nuclear power plant. Until the five challenges identified in this analysis are mediated by effective action, no new nuclear construction of any consequence is likely to proceed.

The current constraints on building new nuclear units stand in obvious tension to the impending power-shortfall emergency in the United States. If new nuclear power is not quickly added to our energy portfolio, the United States will experience inadequate and unreliable power that runs parallel to the impending British situation. If ignored, the result will be unreliable energy resources and a concomitant impact on regional and national economies.

To address these challenges and mitigate their impact on the economy and the well being of society, four initiatives are offered. These initiatives address a set of key financial and policy concerns, but they do not represent an exhaustive list. Some of these recommendations might be controversial, particularly with respect to some special interests. Once the public gains a better understanding of the issues, their concern should diminish, but some compromise might be required. However, we no longer have the time or resources to continue addressing the interests of the few while ignoring the needs of the many.

By understanding the challenges identified, the industry will be better prepared to seek action on the proposed initiatives. Such actions will help America address its greatest need: Building a modern energy infrastructure that provides energy independence, environmental stewardship, and reliable delivery of power.

 

Endnotes:

1. There are press releases regarding site permits, but not a single press release indicating a firm commitment to build.

2. See: “Renaissance Watch,” Nuclear News (August, 2008), p. 14-15

3. See: “Design Certification Applications for New Reactors” on the U.S. NRC’s website: www.nrc.gov/reactors/new-reactors/design-cert.html. There is full certification for the Westinghouse AP-600, a 600 MW reactor that is generally viewed by utilities as uneconomic.

4. See: “Nuclear Power’s Role in Generating Electricity,”