An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago roused attention because it dinged the American nuclear energy industry as being oppressively overregulated – especially compared to Russia and China. I noted then that a focus on safety regulation risked obscuring the larger problem of the energy marketplace. To quote myself “I’d probably also focus more on markets, a WSJ thing, because reforming them to recognize nuclear energy’s value as a reliable and emission-free energy source would bolster the argument considerably.”
Well, they write letters:
The main problem for nuclear isn’t the NRC, but politics and the way markets are structured. Regulated market structures in South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee have led to the construction of billions of dollars of reactors under way now in each of those states. Deregulated market structures in Vermont and other states where reactors have been closed give no credit to the desirable benefits of safe commercial nuclear power, such as round-the-clock electricity generation (try that with wind or solar), full power during extreme weather, virtually zero air pollution and CO2 emissions and stable electricity prices.
Lightbridge President and CEO Seth Grae responds to the article the old-fashioned way, through a letter to the editor, and he gets the economic issue just so. If one wondered why “overregulated” nuclear energy gets a fuller hearing in the south, this is a strong explanation. I’m not sure the market issues are directly related to emissions – I don’t think they are – but Grae is right that markets that do not recognize them are doing themselves a disservice. If it were properly recognized, it would matter less if the marketplace is regulated or unregulated (in this context, referring to the markets, not safety; it can be a little confusing) – nuclear energy’s value as an emission-free energy source would go a long way to reforming the market on its own account. (The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is looking into new rules that account for diversity and reliability of energy sources – qualities that also enhance nuclear energy’s value proposition.)
Lightbridge is “a leading provider of nuclear energy consulting services to commercial and governmental entities worldwide, and is developing next generation nuclear fuel technology that will significantly reduce nuclear waste and proliferation,” according to its self-description.
That fuel technology sounds interesting and even has a thorium connection (for all you fans of the element), though it appears it will be an all-uranium assembly.
Lightbridge’s all metal fuel (AMF) assembly is comprised entirely of metallic fuel rods and is capable of providing up to 17% increase in power output in existing PWRs and up to a 30% power uprate in new build PWRs operating on 18-month fuel cycles.
How it does this is a bit – okay, way – over my head, at least on first read-through, but you can start exploring it here. Lightbridge provides a lot of information about this technology.
Seth Grae contributed a post to the blog almost a year ago about the Ex-Im Bank - and it’s still relevant today! Read it here.