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Nuclear energy – an American comeback story?

  1. jzm
    732 Posts.
    Roth: Nuclear energy – an American comeback story?
    By: Jim Roth Guest Columnist February 6, 2015 0

    As the rise in America’s reliance on renewables as a source for clean energy production continues, nuclear power has been considered a major contender in America’s low-emissions clean energy portfolio.

    According to the World Nuclear Association, the U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30 percent of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. Furthermore, the country’s 100 nuclear reactors produced 798 billion kilowatt-hours in 2014, more than 19 percent of total electrical output. Following a 30-year period in which few new reactors were built, it’s expected that six new units may come on-line by 2020. Government policy changes since the late 1990s have helped pave the way for significant growth in nuclear capacity.

    We know from the recent experience in Japan that nuclear energy – including its technology, construction and operation – is not without risks. Today, perhaps because of these lessons, we know more than ever before about safe deployment of this low-emitting energy resource.

    With respect to new plant construction, nuclear plants are currently under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, with additional permitting proposals existing in Tennessee. In Georgia, construction on the Vogtle 3 and 4 sites began in March and November 2013, respectively. Operation of its AP1000 units is expected to come on-line by second quarters of 2019 and 2020, respectively. The Georgia plants will produce a combined output of 2,234 megawatts and have a total project cost of $14 billion. In South Carolina, construction on the V.C. Summer 2 and 3 sites also began in March and November 2013, respectively, with AP1000 units expected to come on-line by the fourth quarters of 2018 and 2019, respectively. The South Carolina plants will produce a combined output of 2,317 MW and have a total project cost of $11 billion. According to the World Nuclear Association, proposals have been made for 18 large units and 19 small units across America, with a combined gross energy production of 27,600 MW.
    The Watts Bar plant in Tennessee is the leading proposal and last recorded plant construction. Initially, construction had begun in 2007; however, with a slip in the construction schedule, the Tennessee Valley Authority now states the plant should be operational by November 2015.

    The costs of nuclear energy power plants (in the billions) are still the most expensive form of base load energy, but proponents argue that avoiding future fuel costs means that comparing just construction costs is not an accurate test. Still, the utility customer, who ultimately pays for all forms of energy, may not have the budget to absorb the high costs of nuclear energy plants in these construction years.

    According to the World Nuclear Association, most nuclear electricity is produced by using two kinds of reactors, both of which were developed in the 1950s and have been improved upon since. The primary design used today is the pressurized water reactor, which has water at more than 300 degrees Celsius under pressure in its primary cooling/heat transfer circuit and generates steam in a secondary circuit. Steering these technological advancements with a goal of efficiency is indicative of the major role nuclear energy will play in America’s evolving energy portfolio. In a carbon-constrained world of the future, nuclear energy will look more and more cost-competitive as the years go by.

    Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah PC in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.
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