Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nuclear Renaissance?

A common question that arises when people find out that I am a nuclear engineer is, "Do you think that nuclear power will make a comeback in the U.S. after such a long time since the last nuclear plant was built?" I suppose this question comes up because the "new" energy policy that brought us the silly idea of ethanol as part of the solution to our energy problems also included the idea that next few nuclear power plants (the next generation) built should receive a LARGE subsidy from the Department of Energy. While I disagree with the idea of subsidies (whether energy, agricultural, or cultural), I am beginning to wonder if the renaissance in the nuclear industry discussed in Nuclear News is real.

Why do I think there might be a real change in the energy portfolio in the U.S.? Well, I can think of two really good reasons:

  1. The diffusion of a finite number of anti-nuclear activists across multiple proposed projects will make the success of each of the projects more likely.
  2. The "presumptive" nominees of both major political parties seem to buy the snake oil that Al Gore and his buddies are selling.
To elaborate a little further on the anti-nuclear activists, I have always believed that there were only a small number of hard-core activists. The reason that they have been successful is because they could show up at every proposed nuclear site and make a good show of "community" concern. As the number of proposed sites increases, the disruptive nature of this small group of dedicated activists is diffused. Another change (pre-certification of standardized designs) in the regulatory climate that takes away all technical issues except site specific ones has taken away another tool of this group: the endless delay tactic that costs the utilities time and money.

Why does the global warming stance of the major political candidates matter for a new nuclear future? Well, the likely outcome of this November's election will be a Democrat controlled legislature with a President whose stated beliefs will lead us to some form of carbon taxation. This means that nuclear capacity that doesn't generate carbon dioxide may move from just being clean, safe, and reliable to being the economic choice as well. A study (results published in Nuclear News) has shown that a $45/metric ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation will make the nuclear option economically favored over both coal and natural gas for new capacity.

Let's be clear. I don't actually believe the idea that nuclear power needs carbon taxation to be economical. However, if the opportunity presents itself to demonstrate its capability due to this ridiculous policy, I am all for it. And, in answer to the original question, I really do think that nuclear power will make a comeback.


For the curious among you, there are currently 15 submitted Construction and Operating License Applications (COLA) and 15 that are classified as "Forthcoming" COLA. Here is a breakdown of their locations:
  • Submitted
    • 4 in South Carolina
    • 2 in Texas
    • 2 in Alabama
    • 2 in North Carolina
    • 2 in Georgia
    • 1 in Maryland
    • 1 in Virginia
    • 1 in Mississippi
  • Forthcoming
    • 5 in Texas
    • 4 in Florida
    • 1 in Idaho
    • 1 in Michigan
    • 1 in New York
    • 1 in Louisiana
    • 1 in Pennsylvania
    • 1 in Missouri

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

7 new plants in TX. Are they looking to corner the energy market or just lead the way?

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