Nuclear Revival -- With Changes
May 2, 2001
Proponents of nuclear power have been encouraged by recent Bush administration statements that it must be an essential part of the national energy mix. So they are dusting the cobwebs off plans that have been on the shelf for years.
But this time they are following a somewhat different strategy.
- If a younger generation of nuclear plants does make an appearance, it will probably be as small-scale additions to existing nuclear sites.
- That's because the sites have already weathered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's rigorous site review, and the hardware -- substations and high-voltage transmission lines -- needed to get the power to customers is already in place.
- Nuclear energy backers maintain they can build reactors that cost less and are far safer than the 1960s and 1970s era plants.
- Three new nuclear designs that represent evolutionary improvements over existing reactors have been approved by the NRC in recent years -- the pebble-bed modular reactor being prominent among the new technologies.
The pebble-bed reactors would be only one-tenth the size of the most recently constructed conventional nuclear plants in other countries. At $150 million apiece, investment costs are relatively modest, construction times could be much faster and plants could begin selling power much more quickly. That would reduce carrying costs that crippled utility balance sheets a generation ago.
Nuclear power advocates are also pushing the commission to staff a licensing division that received its last new plant application in 1973.
Source: Rebecca Smith, "Nuclear Power: Revival or Relapse?" Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2001.
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