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The federal government has - after decades - green-lighted a nuclear project.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved two Southern Company reactors at its Vogtle plant.

These are the first nuclear plants to be approved since the Three Miles Island accident in 1979, when Jimmy Carter patrolled the White House.

There are lots worth pondering. But I will focus on one issue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that since 1979, 95 nuclear reactors were canceled in the United States.

It is worth contemplating where we would be today had those plants been built.

We would have almost double the number of nuclear reactors in the United States – up from the current 104 operating reactors.

What would the impact of that have been on development of coal-fired generation and our growing reliance on natural gas generation? Would it have killed in its cradle wind and solar and other renewable technologies? Would we have had the incentive to push energy efficiency?

Would the United States still reign as the leading developer of nuclear power in the world? Today, China and India lead a handful of countries that are much more aggressively pursuing the nuclear option than the United States. That has cost us jobs and national prestige.

Would the issue of a carbon policy ever have arisen if nuclear was more dominant and coal and natural gas generation was fading in importance?

Would an abundance of electric power have prompted politicians to move more aggressively to end our strategic vulnerability to imported oil from dangerous regions of the world? Would we be looking at more electric vehicles on the road?

We don’t know.

We also don’t know if a true renaissance will follow the efforts of Southern Company – or whether the nuclear genie will be throttled once again after a few plants get built in this country.

What disruptive forces will determine the future of nuclear power – and all kinds of generation in America? That is among several important themes to be taken up at the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in Washington next month – March 19-21.

 

 

  

3452 Views Comments 7 Comments Comments Add Comment Author BioAuthor Bio
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member photo Just what we need to hear. The bottom line of this energy thing is going to be nuclear plus some renewables and alternatives. The nuclear is certain, and the same is true or almost true of the renewables. The thing to think about now is the alternatives. What, when and how much!
# Posted By Ferdinand E. Banks | 2/13/12 7:35 AM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo I want to know why research on the Integrated Fast Reactor at
Argonne was cancelled by Clinton. It seems like that had the
potential to solve problems that haunt conventional nuclear power.
# Posted By Steven Hall | 2/16/12 12:08 PM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo I never heard about Clinton cancelling the fast reactor, but if he did it wouldn't make any difference to me. The world was not and probably is not ready for a fast reactor. A nuclear physicist recently told me that there would never be a fast reactor, which is something that I know is completely or totally wrong. A satisfactory commercial fast reactor is probably about a decade away, and when it arrives I sincerely hop that it and other reactors are managed by persons who know what they are doing - unlike, for example, the good people who are in charge here in Sweden.
# Posted By Ferdinand E. Banks | 2/22/12 4:13 AM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo Clinch River Breeder program was originally killed by Mr. Carter's administration and re-established under Mr. Reagan's administration. However, funding for it was not provided by the US Senate in 1983 and it finally died.

We need a breeder (or what is called a "burner" reactor to burn transactinides associated with the nuclear fuel cycle and any reasonable reprocessing program. Reprocessing can eliminate all long lived isotopes (>25,000 years) by burning them in conventional or burner reactors and leaving only fission products with short half lives of less than 35 years in storage casks that we can protect for 1000 years. At that point the remaining radioactivity will be similar to that of background radiation in mines.
# Posted By Dennis Huber | 3/1/12 2:01 PM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo The primary source of GHG is fossil fuel burning electrical generating facilities. http://dingo.care2.com/pictures/causes/uploads/201...
7 Billion humans generate vast quantities of excrement. I believe this excrement is capable of providing all human electrical demands. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiolysis
Right now hydrogen is perceived as a negative by product, of Nuclear Energy, when it should be the product, as the Pentagon has considered. reference info Request for Information (RFI) on Deployable Reactor Technologies ... DARPA-SN-10-37@darpa.mil
https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=f...
Large scale conversions sites are intended to replace fossil fuel powered electrical facilities the Primary Source of Carbon Emissions.
http://www.populist.com/99.12.krebs.blob.html
In what officials now say was a mistaken strategy to reduce the waste's volume, organic chemicals were added years ago which were being bombarded by radiation fields, resulting in unwanted hydrogen. The hydrogen was then emitted in huge releases that official studies call burps, causing "waste-bergs," chunks of waste floating on the surface, to roll over.

Dennis Baker                  
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# Posted By dennis baker | 3/7/12 12:59 PM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo The rhetorical question that is the core of this article, where would we be if we had built more nuclear plants, ignores some important factors that caused the freeze in construction in the first place, and several issues that would confront a more rapid deployment of nuclear power.
While it's impossible to quantify the relative effects of safety standards, reduced subsidies, public opposition, and lack of investor confidence, they are all factors in the shutdown of nuclear power plant construction in the US. But what finally brought investment in nuclear power to a standstill was the investors themselves. Despite over 30 years of major federal government subsidization of R&D, uranium mining, fuel enrichment, loan guarantees, and legislated immunity to insurance claims, nuclear power costs continued to spiral out of control and remain unpredictable. What happened to nuclear power is that it could not compete economically against other sources, despite the largest government subsidies for any energy source before or since.
The recent new plants have only been initiated because of tailor-made new subsidies passed by congress and signed by the president. And we as taxpayers are still on the hook for all the same things, including the potential damages from a nuclear power plant accident. It seems that there are a lot of people who oppose government subsidies "in principle" who are silent about the fact that nuclear can't compete without government subsidies.
Going forward, there are some other issues. First, uranium ore is not an infinite or renewable resource. As such, the same thing is starting to happen to uranium ore as has already happened to petroleum - the cheap easy-to-get-at resources are mostly already tapped out, and what remains costs more to extract and is often of lower grade than what was mined before. As the world's demand for uranium climbs, the cost is starting to climb with it, and prospects in the next 20 years (less than the life-span of a nuclear plant) of order of magnitude increases in the cost of the raw fuel that keeps nuclear plants running. Second, nuclear power plants are very energy-intensive to build, with the vast majority of that energy (unless perhaps you factor in 25,000 years of operating waste storage facilities) being consumed for materials and construction. If we ever have an intensive nuclear power plant construction program we will in fact increase our net GHG output for the period of construction (typ. 3-5 years) plus the first 3-10 years of operations (depending on whose net energy statistics you want to go by) to pay that initial energy investment back. At a time when we need a net GHG reduction NOW in order to have a significant slowing impact on climate change, this is probably not an appropriate course of action as regards climate change. And of course, there is still that nagging little question of what to do with all that radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. It seems, if we're going to spend taxpayer money on nuclear technology, it should be focused on finding a way to protect future generations from our callousness and stupidity, not on subsidizing an energy source that still can't compete on its own merits.
# Posted By Len Beyea | 4/16/12 9:46 AM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
member photo hence the need to present Nuclear in a different format other than steam generation!
How about Hydrogen generation?
# Posted By dennis baker | 6/4/12 7:55 AM | Report This Comment as Foul/Inappropriate
 
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