Monday, October 24, 2011

Is the Future Outlook for Nuclear Energy Bright?

To every debate, there are two sides of the coin. How will nuclear energy stack up in a post-Fukushima world? Heads—nuclear energy will continue to prosper and become even safer despite potential regulatory hurdles that could befall the industry. Tails—Fukushima’s impact on the industry will force new nuclear energy production to come to a screeching halt.

David Crane, president and CEO of NRG Energy, believes that the future outlook for nuclear energy is “dim.”

The Hartford Business Journal writes:

America’s long-term energy future lies with both large- and small-scale solar and wind generation, especially solar, backed up by baseload and peaker power plants using a variety of fuels, Crane said. The bulk of that back-up fuel source was supposed to be nuclear power, he said, but after the Japanese nuclear disaster in March, the regulatory burdens make expanded nuclear nearly impossible.
The Journal continues:
The problem with nuclear isn’t the typical not-in-my-backyard neighbors concerns, as nuclear is widely accepted in the South, said Crane. Instead, nuclear development suffers from regulatory and government financing hurdles only made worse by Japan.
Crane’s outlook for the industry comes after NRG in April decided to write down $481 million of its investment in two new nuclear units at the South Texas Project due to concerns about financial resources. However, The New York Times writes that the project…
was in considerable doubt even before the accident at Fukushima began on March 11. Texas has a surplus of electricity and low prices for natural gas, which sets the price of electricity on the market there.
Given current U.S. natural gas prices are low and that overall electricity demand is down from the depressed economy, it is not hard to understand why some, including Crane, take the “tails” side view. But, there are still others in the “heads” camp to balance the debate.

Take, for instance, an email I received just today from our friends at SCANA who are doing preconstruction work for the Summer 2 and 3 project in South Carolina.Bigge Crane Assembly
With about 1,000 workers on site, a significant amount of infrastructure work is complete, including water supply lines and a temporary drain system. All commercial buildings have been erected. This includes pipe shops, electrical shops, an engineering building, and warehouses.
Similar preconstruction activities continue to take place at Southern Co.’s Plant Vogtle site in Georgia. In May, I had the privilege of videotaping a short interview with then-CEO Jim Miller of Southern Company on whether or not he thought the industry would continue to move forward. His take:
We are going to continue constructing Vogtle 3 and 4 and other new plants in this country and move forward with this safe, clean, very reliable and low-cost source of electricity for our customers and for our country.
I guess only time will tell who will win the debate, but I’m hoping for heads.

Photo credits from SCANA: Assembly of the heavy lift derrick, or the Bigge Crane, is well under way. Known as the world’s biggest crane, its boom is 560 feet.

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