Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fortune on the Nuclear Revival

Editor-at-Large David Whitford tours the U.S. to get a closer look at the industry:

Probably the earliest a new reactor could come online in the U.S. is 2015, and even that seems optimistic. There is plenty of opposition, despite what Earley says. And anything could happen over the next decade or so to knock the train off its track. A terrorist attack on a nuclear facility anywhere in the world would halt all progress overnight. So would another Chernobyl. But right now the momentum is swinging nuclear's way. Among the many green-light factors: rising natural-gas prices; soaring electricity demand; the looming prospect of a carbon tax; a new, streamlined regulatory process; and growing acceptance by environmentalists that nuclear energy, which emits no greenhouse gases, could have a vital role in saving the planet.

This developing story has continental sweep, a huge cast of characters, multiple moving parts. So much of what we think we know we haven't reexamined in years. If we're going to try to reconcile nuclear power's cloudy past with the industry's bright vision of the future, we need to see for ourselves. Road trip, anyone?
Whitford starts at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, and eventually makes his way to the Idaho National Lab. Be sure to go along for the ride.


Anonymous said...

The best line in the article is

The most important lesson I will learn: Things are not always as we remember them.

Matthew66 said...

Of Three Mile Island he says: "Unit 2 is a sarcophagus, still highly radioactive, sealed tight until somebody figures out what to do about the remnants of hot fuel scattered around the basement of the containment building."

It's a pity he didn't read the NRC's fact sheet on TMI-2, which clearly states that:

"Today, the TMI-2 reactor is permanently shut down and defueled, with the reactor coolant system drained, the radioactive water decontaminated and evaporated, radioactive waste shipped off-site to an appropropriate disposal site, reactor fuel and core debris shipped off-site to a Department of Energy facility, and the remainder of the site being monitored. The owner says it will keep the facility in long-term, monitored storage until the operating license for the TMI-1 plant expires at which time both plants will be decommissioned. Below is a chronology of highlights of the TMI-2 cleanup from 1980 through 1993."

I really expect better research from a Fortune "Editor-at-large", whatever that might be.

Edward Geist said...

I was also curious about the assertion in the article that had the reactor head at Davis-Besse had been breached, that a core meltdown would have resulted, but that unlike TMI, there would be "no containment." Does this statement have any basis in fact? I attempted to find documents directly addressing this question on the NRC website, but I was unable to. I was under the impression that a reactor head breach would not necessarily result in the failure of emergency cooling, and that a meltdown would not necessarily escape containment. Indeed, the experience of TMI suggests that even very extensive core damage would not cause containment to fail. Does anyone know where I can find a thorough analysis of this?