Skip to main content

Does Nuclear Energy Still Have a Future? You Better Believe It Does.

Ever since last week's announcement of the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, we've been seeing a spate of stories in the press questioning whether or not nuclear energy has a future as part of the nation's energy mix. Here at NEI, the answer is a resounding yes, and part of the confidence springs from the fact that we've passed this way before. Back in the 1990s, we saw 10 reactors shut down for a variety of different reasons, and it wasn't uncommon for the press to wonder if the only growth part of the business was in decommissioning reactors.

So what happened? Well, the industry got back to work figuring out how to do our jobs better than before. Over the course of a decade or so, the industry's average capacity factor rose from the high 70s to near 90% across the entire fleet. And thanks to a number of companies performing plant uprates, the U.S. nuclear fleet actually produces more electricity today from fewer reactors.

So reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated before. So what's the good news today? How about five reactors currently under construction in the U.S. with plenty more planned or on order overseas? How about small reactors? And, as we've recently seen, there's growing realization on the part of many environmentalists that keeping the lights on while constraining carbon emissions means that nuclear energy must be part of the world's energy mix going forward.

NEI's Scott Peterson and Monica Trauzzi of E&E TV
But that doesn't mean folks aren't entitled to ask tough questions, which is exactly what Monica Trauzzi of E&E TV did earlier this week when she had NEI Senior Vice President Scott Peterson in the studio to talk about recent items in the news, including the San Onofre shutdown. Here are some highlights from the transcript:
Monica Trauzzi: How big of a hit is this to the industry, and is it in some ways a sign of surrender on some of the sticky safety issues that surround nuclear energy?

Scott Peterson: Absolutely not. The nuclear industry will continue to play a vital role in the electricity system for hundreds of millions of people in this country. San Onofre is an unfortunate situation for the consumers of Southern California, who relied on that plant for reliable power, for grid stability particularly in the hot summer months. And it'll be interesting to see how they survive this coming summer. But we believe that nuclear energy certainly has a role to play in this country. San Onofre is a unique situation, to the replacement of those steam generators, but when you look at the prospects of our industry, we're building five reactors today in this country. We just finished a major uprate at, FPL's plant's putting on another 500 megawatts. We're renewing licenses, and we're developing new reactor designs for the future. So we feel very good about nuclear energy's role in the electricity system going forward.
And on the progress in Georgia and South Carolina at Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer:
Monica Trauzzi: The nuclear industry has seemingly taken hit after hit recently. What - how are investments looking in your sector? Is it difficult to secure investments?

Scott Peterson: Not at all. When you look at the new projects that we're putting in in Georgia and South Carolina, both projects are getting the financing they need. In fact, they're over-subscribed in the financing as they go into the markets to get financing for building those four AP1000 reactors. So there is a, very much the financial support for the industry. As we're putting new technologies online, we want to make sure there's an equal commitment with a cost-shared program to develop small modular reactors at the Department of Energy and through the appropriations that Congress provides for that program, as another part of moving our industry future. So there is investment happening today. There is still a strong support for nuclear energy, certainly a strong role to play, particularly when you're looking at meeting 28 percent electricity growth by 2040, and doing it in a way that really reduces greenhouse gasses as a whole.
Bottom line: not dead yet. Not by a long shot.

Comments

FRE said…
That's was a good article. However, it did not adequately cover the need to develop better nuclear technologies which would circumvent some of the problems associated with our present nuclear reactor technology.

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) seems especially promising; it was successfully tested many years ago in prototype form, but unfortunately, funding was canceled before it could be developed to the point of implementation.

By doing a google search on "thoriuim reactor", you can learn more about it. Although it is not ready for implementation and some challenges remain, it certainly looks sufficiently promising that R & D should resume.

The integral fast reactor (IFR) may also have possibilities which should be explored.

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…