Deregulation Produces Nuclear Turnaround

November 25, 2002

The nuclear power industry is undergoing a remarkable turnaround says John Poston, professor of nuclear engineering at Texas A & M University.

  • Nuclear power is growing, adding the equivalent of 24 large power plants since 1990.
  • Steady improvements in the efficiency of nuclear plants led to the production of 768 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2001, up from 754 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000 and 557 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990.
  • Major utilities have been engaged in bidding wars to buy nuclear plants, and virtually every nuclear plant in the United States is expected to seek renewal of its operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

One reason for the turnaround is deregulation of the electric power industry.

  • Refueling shutdowns that used to last several months before electric-industry deregulation now are completed in as few as 18 days.
  • With improved safety and maintenance, nuclear plants run nearly two years without shutdowns.
  • Efficiency is at an all-time high, resulting in generating costs that average 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, while electricity produced from natural gas costs nearly twice as much.

Another aspect of deregulation has been reform of power plant licensing.

  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has pre-certified the designs of three types of advanced nuclear plants for construction.
  • At least three utilities have designated sites for new units and are seeking commission approval.
  • Approval under a new review process should take only 18 to 30 months, compared to a decade or more under old procedures.

Even modest growth in electricity demand over the next 20 years will require a 50 percent increase in electric power production, says Poston, and the next generation of nuclear plants can help meet that demand.

Source: John W. Poston Sr., "Nuclear power's comeback proves pundits wrong," Dallas Morning News, November 17, 2002.

 

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