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America Technology Gets Ready to Go Big Again with New Nuclear Projects

I hear it all the time lately.Remember when?

“What’s happening to American technology? Are we losing our edge?”

No more space shuttle. Steve Jobs logging off for good. The next generation space telescope on the chopping block.

So, it was with no small satisfaction last week that I listened into an NRC hearing on combined construction and operating license for new reactors at the V.C. Summer site in South Carolina. Perhaps the best bit was Stephen Byrne, executive vice president of South Carolina Electricity and Gas, explaining why a utility executive would opt to build a new nuclear power plant.

“We choose nuclear over other energy alternatives for four main reasons. First, the need for baseload power. The new units will help meet state regulatory reserve margin requirements. Second, cost. Nuclear is competitive with other baseload options when evaluated over its 40-year design life. Third is fuel diversity, adding units 2 and 3 [at V.C. Summer] will increase the share of nuclear in our fuel portfolio from approximately 11 percent to approximately 30 percent…Fourth is its low greenhouse gas emissions.”

But more than that, it was nice knowing that, after a 30-year break, America is (pending final NRC approval) going to be building a nuclear power plant again.

Think about it. Upwards of 1,000 megawatts of generating capacity all produced with a small amount of uranium. In a facility with a relatively small physical footprint, especially compared to the equivalent space renewables would use. (One of the things that struck me about my first visit to a plant was how small it was.) And it all happens without combustion, so no greenhouse gases are produced.

The AP1000 reactor design for the facilities comes from Westinghouse. Westinghouse, based in Pennsylvania, was acquired by Toshiba Corporation and other partners in 2006. But at the end of the day, a U.S. company will play a major role in building a reactor on American soil creating American jobs.

There has also been a lot of talk lately on what counts as a shovel-ready project. Both the Vogtle Gets Ready for Its Close UpV.C. Summer project in South Carolina and the Vogtle project in Georgia [another subject of a recent NRC mandatory hearing on its combined operating license] fit the bill. In fact, the shovels have already started digging in early work at the sites. Southern Company—which is heading up the Vogtle project—can’t wait to get started.

“We will be in a position to implement the rule-making as soon as it is affirmed,” Joseph “Buzz” Miller, executive vice president for nuclear development of Southern Nuclear Operating Co., said...

The NRC is expected to approve the Vogtle COLs sometime “very early next year.” The Summer COLs, presumably, would not be far behind.

When the COLs get issued, I will be heading over to Southern’s website on the progress at Vogtle to keep track of what’s going on. And right after that, I’ll be checking in with NASA on its next missions.


SteveK9 said…
Minor quibble. The design life is 60 years for the AP1000, so better than Byrne's statement.

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