Good News on the Nuclear Front

By March 25, 2007Energy

America’s nuclear renaissance is steaming ahead, with new developments occurring almost every month.

For example, the first commercial reactor unit in the United States of the 21 Century is set to go on-line in May. From the TVA’s 10-Q filing with the SEC.*

TVA expects that Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Unit 1 will return to service in the spring of 2007. A major project milestone in achieving that goal was realized when fuel loading was completed in December 2006. … [Restart] costs are still projected to be about $1.8 billion (exclusive of allowance for funds used during construction and assets recovery obligation costs). Browns Ferry Unit 1 is expected initially to provide additional generating capacity of approximately 1,150 megawatts and eventually to provide 1,280 megawatts of capacity.

In Illinois, Exelon this month gained an Early Site Permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, allowing it to move faster on constructing a new plant on land it currently owns to the Clinton Power Station. While no construction is currently planned, this is the first example of the NRC’s expedited permitting, the kind of government streamlining needed to make construction of nuclear power more efficient and cost-effective. (Stories here and here.)

All in all, 2006 was a banner year for nuclear energy in the United States, marked by the second-highest amount of electricity in the industry’s history with record-low production costs. “The 103 nuclear power plants in 31 states generated 787.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity last year, second only to the 788.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity produced in 2004,” the NEI said in its March Nuclear Energy Insight.

Positive developments are also happening north of the border, as Canada considers the first new nuclear plants in a quarter century. Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation have both begun the licensing process for new plants. (Story here.)

To be sure, there are obstacles. Some environmentalists and NIMBY-ites oppose new power generation of any consequence, and a lack of fuel (uranium) could hamper growth. The shortage of skilled employees, so harmful to manufacturing, is particularly severe in the nuclear power industry.

Nevertheless, the forecast is looking brighter than it has in decades. Even many environmentalists are starting to consider nuclear energy in a new light, spurred by the industry’s near emissions-free power generation. “You can’t just write nuclear off,” Judi Greenwald, director of innovative solutions with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told USA Today. “I think everybody feels you have to at least look again” at nuclear power.

As always, our thanks to the NEI’s blog, NEI Nuclear Notes, for keeping us up to speed on industry developments. And for an explanation of the asterisk, please go to the extended entry part of this post.

* We’re able to quote from the Tennessee Value Authority’s 10-Q statement with the SEC because last year the TVA registered and began filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (News release here.) The TVA’s action follows the decisions — much resisted, for a very long time — by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and later the Federal Home Loan Banks to come under the SEC disclosure regime. Proponents contend that by making financial disclosures correspond to those of publicly-held companies, the SEC reports provide a useful measure of transparency to the public, who back the Government Sponsored Enterprises through their congressional charters.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • There is absolutely no need for nuclear power in the US because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

    I refer to ‘concentrating solar power’ (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

    CSP works best in hot deserts and it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient ‘HVDC’ transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may be transmitted to anywhere in the US. A recent report from the American Solar Energy Society says that CSP plants in the south western states of the US “could provide nearly 7,000 GW of capacity, or about seven times the current total US electric capacity”.

    In the ‘TRANS-CSP’ report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

    Further information about CSP may be found at and . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at .