From a new administration in Washington, D.C., to the debate on climate change, 2009 was a busy year for the nuclear industry as the domestic fleet continued to operate at near-record capacity.
The following summary of nuclear energy in 2009 was eloquently written and compiled by one of NEI’s writers, TJ Swanek. Hope you enjoy and find it useful!
BIG CHANGES IN WASHINGTON
At the federal level, many changes took place that will affect the nuclear industry. Steven Chu, confirmed as energy secretary, oversaw increases in funding for long-term nuclear energy research in the budgeting process, including research dollars for advanced fuel cycles and Generation IV reactors.
At the NRC, Gregory Jaczko was appointed chairman, succeeding Dale Klein, who had been serving in that role since July 2006. President Obama nominated George Apostolakis, William Magwood and Bill Ostendorff as NRC commissioners to fill two vacant seats and replace Klein on the commission. If the nominees are approved, they would join current commissioner Kristine Svinicki to create a full five-member commission.
In Congress, legislation to reduce greenhouse gases inched forward with the passage of a cap and trade bill for greenhouse gas emissions in the House. The Senate is set to consider energy legislation in 2010 but has yet to bring cap-and-trade to a floor vote.
ENHANCING THE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT
In October, DOE announced that nuclear utilities must continue paying into the Nuclear Waste Fund as federally mandated, despite a letter from NEI requesting that DOE suspend payments into the fund in light of the administration’s moves to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository project. The Nuclear Waste Fund has a $23 billion balance.
Power uprates—which add generating capacity to existing nuclear plants—and license renewals were granted by the NRC in 2009. One combined construction and operating license was accepted by the NRC.
The NRC approved 20‐year license renewals for units at:
- The Beaver Valley, Susquehanna and Three Mile Island plants in Pennsylvania
- The Vogtle plant in Georgia
- The Oyster Creek plant in New Jersey.
The NRC received applications for license renewals at:
- The Diablo Canyon plant in California
- The Salem and Hope Creek plant in New Jersey.
- Calvert Cliffs units 1 and 2 in Maryland
- North Anna units 1 and 2 in Virginia.
In September, the NRC accepted a combined construction and operating license application from Florida Power and Light for two new AP1000 reactors at its Turkey Point site.
AmerenUE asked the NRC to officially suspend its review of the company’s application for a combined construction and operating license for a new reactor at its Callaway site in Missouri in June.
During the federal budgeting process funding was reduced for the Yucca Mountain repository even though the NRC license process is continuing. The industry is awaiting the Obama Administration’s formation of a “blue ribbon” commission of experts to study alternatives to the repository as the NRC licensing process continues to move forward.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an endangerment finding that allows it to proceed with plans to regulate the emission of six greenhouse gases it identifies as pollutants. EPA’s plans would require “large emitters” of greenhouse gases to start reporting emissions in January 2010 and to use the “best available methods” for controlling them in new construction or upgrades.
Other major regulatory developments include:
- The NRC conducted a special inspection of containment separation at the Crystal River Plant.
- The NRC ruled that the introduction of unauthorized explosives and firearms at nuclear power plants, high-level radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities is a federal offense. Previously, any criminal sanctions had to be sought under state law.
- The NRC approved a final rule that requires applicants for new reactors to assess the design’s ability to withstand or lessen the damage from the impact of large commercial aircraft.
- The NRC informed Westinghouse that the shield building design for the company’s AP1000 reactor would require additional testing and analysis or modification to meet NRC standards.
- NRC Chairman Jaczko called for review of underground piping requirements, and the industry adopted an initiative to improve the integrity of underground piping.
State regulators also made some noteworthy changes in 2009:
- The Georgia PSC approved Construction Work in Progress (CWIP), which allows Georgia Power to recover costs for new reactors during construction. Georgia Power said CWIP would create $1.5 billion in interest savings for its Vogtle site.
- The Florida PSC approved CWIP requests from FPL and Progress Energy.
NUCLEAR ENERGY’S FAVORABILITY GROWS
Policymakers and analysts have increasingly come to see that nuclear energy has a vital role to play as part of a secure, low-emissions energy portfolio, and that trend continued in 2009. Analyses of H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, by the EPA and the EIA demonstrated that substantial increases in nuclear generating capacity are essential to meet the legislation’s carbon-reduction goals.
In the EPA analysis (pdf), nuclear energy increases by 150 percent, from 782 billion kilowatt-hours in 2005 to more than 2 trillion in 2050. Assuming that all existing nuclear power plants will retire after 60 years of operation, this analysis calls for 187 new nuclear plants to be built by 2050.
In the “basic” scenario of EIA’s analysis, 96 gigawatts of new nuclear energy generation would be needed by 2030 (69 nuclear plants). This would result in nuclear energy’s supplying one third of U.S. electricity generation, more than any other source of electric power.
Public support for nuclear power remained strong. A poll in August from ABC News/Washington Post on energy policy showed that support for nuclear power is up, with 52 percent supporting the construction of more nuclear power plants, a 6 percentage point increase from a similar poll in 2001.
Bisconti Research found continued support for nuclear energy in two surveys during 2009. The surveys found:
- 79 percent of Republicans and Independents think nuclear energy should be expanded as part of a low-carbon energy mix; 71 percent of Democrats think the same.
- 66 percent of Americans give a high rating to the safety of nuclear power plants.
- The public believes that solar, wind and nuclear will be the top sources of electricity 15 years from now.
Bisconti Research also found that there is strong support for building new reactors—particularly among residents near the facilities where companies are pursuing licenses for new reactors.
- 76 percent agreed that the industry should definitely build more nuclear plants.
- 71 percent said it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at the plant closest to where they live.
PREPARING A NEXT-GENERATION WORKFORCE
The nuclear industry is working with academia, organized labor, and state and federal government leaders to train a new generation of workers for the nuclear industry. Ensuring a well-qualified workforce to sustain operations at existing plants and build new reactors represents a challenge for the near term. Transferring industry knowledge to a new generation of workers will be essential for the continued success of the industry.
This year, major workforce stories included:
- The NRC awarded $20 million in grants for nuclear energy education.
- The National Association of Manufacturers formed the Nuclear Energy Workforce Coalition to promote jobs in the manufacturing sector and help potential workers acquire necessary skills.
- Energy Secretary Chu announced $9 million in academic awards for nuclear energy education as part of the Nuclear Energy Universities Program.
- Nuclear training programs received Department of Labor grants for work force development totaling over $5 million.
- AFL-CIO convention delegates passed Resolution 10, “Creating and Retaining Sustainable Good Green Jobs,” (pdf) which called new reactors “a necessary component of our electrical energy portfolio.”
- Hundreds of vendors, manufacturers, suppliers and industry representatives attended NEI Nuclear Manufacturing Outreach Workshops in Chattanooga, Detroit and Orlando.
URANIUM FUEL SUPPLY
Several major suppliers signed new contracts, and the NRC accepted the first application for a laser uranium enrichment facility:
- DOE issued a determination that a proposed transfer of uranium would not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium industry.
- The NRC accepted an application for a laser enrichment facility in North Carolina from GE Hitachi.
- White Canyon Uranium Ltd. announced the first production of uranium ore from its Daneros mine in southeastern Utah.
- The National Academy of Sciences gave tentative approval for the National Research Council to study uranium mining in Virginia.
- Kuwait completed the funding for the Nuclear Threat Initiative fuel bank, and the IAEA approved a Russian-sponsored fuel bank.
- The USEC American Centrifuge Plant lost $30 million in DOE funding, but its loan guarantee application is continuing.
U.S. REACTORS SUSTAIN EXEMPLARY OPERATIONS
U.S. reactors continued to generate power around-the-clock at near-record capacity factors. The capacity factor of a plant is the ratio of electricity actually produced compared to the maximum electricity a power plant can produce operating at full power year-round. It is an important benchmark for the nuclear energy industry.
While final 2009 figures are not available, through November the average capacity factor for all 104 reactors was 90.5 percent, close to the record of 91.5 percent set in 2007. Also in 2009:
- The Three Mile Island Generating Station Unit 1 broke the world record for longest continuous days of operation for a pressurized water reactor.
- Employees at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station set a company record (pdf) by working more than 10.2 million hours without an injury that resulted in a missed day of work.
- The R. E. Ginna nuclear power plant in Ontario, N.Y., completed a scheduled refueling outage in record time.
NUCLEAR ENERGY DEVELOPMENT ACCELERATES WORLDWIDE
Internationally, nuclear energy experienced an exciting year. China moved ahead with an ambitious plan to grow its nuclear fleet, while the U.S. opened up to nuclear trade with India and the U.A.E.
Major international stories included:
- American industry leaders visited India on a trade mission after the country signed a bilateral cooperation agreement on nuclear energy trade with the U.S.
- Similar agreements were signed with Italy (pdf) and the United Arab Emirates. A high-level trade mission to the U.A.E. is scheduled for early this year.
- In April, the first safety-grade concrete pour—an important initial step in building a nuclear power plant—was begun on a site in China for four Westinghouse AP1000 plants.
- National moratoria against building new nuclear plants were repealed in Italy and Sweden.
- Britain announced a new energy policy, including plans for 16 GW of new nuclear capacity.
CHANGES AT NEI IN 2009
Finally, Marvin Fertel was elected president and CEO at NEI in February. NEI also launched a new integrated strategy that leverages resources of both the Institute and its members to achieve common legislative, regulatory and public policy goals.
Let us know if we missed any stories.