Nuclear Energy on the Move

By May 30, 2007Energy, Global Warming

Catching up on developments in the world of nuclear energy, we note:

1. The Washington Post’s story, “China Embraces Nuclear Future.”

Under plans already announced, China intends to spend $50 billion to build 32 nuclear plants by 2020. Some analysts say the country will build 300 more by the middle of the century. That’s not much less than the generating power of all the nuclear plants in the world today.

Unlike the Soviet nuclear push of past decades, the Chinese are attentive toward safety, using the latest U.S. and Japanese technology, and are also adopting “cookie-cutter” model plants, simplifying construction and operation.

2. At the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual conference in Miami last week, NEI’s newly elected board chairman, John Rowe, gave a state-of-the-industry speech that was both upbeat and realistic.

The industry has proven its ability to operate nuclear power plants on a sustained basis at high levels of safety and efficiency at a time when demand for reliable electricity from clean-energy technologies is increasing. Despite this favorable situation, “significant regulatory, financial and infrastructure challenges stand between where we are and where we need to be,” Rowe said.

He cited used nuclear fuel management, financing of capital-intensive projects, and future work force needs as among the key challenges facing the industry. In separate remarks during the conference’s opening session, NEI President and CEO Frank L. “Skip” Bowman identified a need for improved communications to solidify political and public support among people and entities who are increasingly – but sometimes tenuously – embracing nuclear energy.

The news release is here, Rowe’s speech is here, and Admiral Bowman’s speech is here.

3. The restart of the TVA’s 1,150 megawatt Browns Ferry I nuclear reactor continues, with some operational problems arising — as might be expected after a 22-year hiatus. Safety has not been compromised.

4. Paul Newman, the newly retired actor and still environmental activist toured Entergy’s Indian Head nuclear plant in New York last week. Anti-energy groups oppose the plant’s reauthorization, claiming terrorists may target the facility. Newman:

I recently toured the Indian Point nuclear plant and I expected to be shown safety and security at the plant. But what I saw exceeded my expectations. No Army or Navy base I’ve ever visited has been more armored and I couldn’t walk 30 feet inside the plant without swiping my key card to go through another security check point.

There was security at every turn, and the commitment to safety is clear. One worker told me his family lives very close to the plant, downwind even, and he is very comfortable because of the plant’s commitment to safety.

An accurate assessment from a party you’d expect to be hostile or skeptical. Good for Cool Hand Luke.

UPDATE 11:50 a.m.: “Actually, he’s now known around these parts as ‘Cool Hand Nuke’.” — Eric McErlain at NEI.