I know it’s an election year and the administration is looking for good news anywhere it can find it, but the press reports about Energy Secretary Steven Chu saying “the resurgence of America’s nuclear industry starts here in Georgia, where you just got approval for the first time in three decades to build new reactors,” are both sad and laughable.
He was of course talking about the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s February 9th approval of the two unit expansion at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia. The Secretary said rightly that nuclear power has played an important role in the U.S. energy portfolio and still provides 20% of total electricity produced and 70% market share of all the carbon-free electricity produced.
Story is sad because nuclear power’s spectacular performance for more than 30 years gets no respect from environmental advocates clamoring for greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Another inconvenient truth is that if we had not killed off every new nuclear plant since the 1970’s we would today have a lot less coal fired generation today and would be a lot closer to the goal of emissions reduction.
What was laughable in Secretary Chu’s remarks was his warning that global competition for nuclear technology leadership is “fierce.” It is laughable because it is true everywhere but America. He said we needed to build more nuclear power today or import it tomorrow—–hello! News Flash for the Department of Energy, the US surrendered long ago in the fight for nuclear power. The technology, manufacturing and expertise are now found in Japan and South Korea and China and the US must get in the queue and wait our turn.
Enough ranting, the approval of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design is indeed good news but we should not get excited about seeing many of these giants built. We won’t. The cost is too high and the risk of fickle regulation too large, and ruinous inflation too near over the long construction cycle. Building a new nuclear power plant is a career not an assignment.
There is indeed a future for nuclear energy but this is not it. The new future for nuclear is small, modular, passive designs that allow package plants to be build in baby nuke factories and trucked to their locations. If Secretary Chu wants to change the future he should make a bet on this new modular nuclear technology and give America a chance to reclaim its leadership role in clean, reliable nuclear power.
There ends the rant, and begins the prayer.
- NRC approves two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia (nextbigfuture.com)
- | New nukes are too risky: No New Nukes!! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Design of new U.S. reactors puts priority on cooling (mnn.com)
- First Next-Gen US Reactor Designed to Avoid Fukushima Repeat (livescience.com)