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article imageOp-Ed: Nuclear power is losing ground but it still needs our support

By Karen Graham     Aug 7, 2017 in Business
Nearly a decade ago, planning began for two new nuclear power plants in eastern Georgia. But as of this week, the two plants have yet to be built, and another pair of utilities in South Carolina canceled construction on two nuclear reactors.
South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. and its partner, Santee Cooper stopped work on two new nuclear reactors this week, but it wasn't because of public protests, instead, the reasons were more realistic. Either the companies could overcharge customers to pay for the plants or go bankrupt.
In Georgia, things work a little differently. Westinghouse is building the only nuclear plant under construction in Georgia but is already over budget and has missed a number of deadlines. Georgia has taken over the two reactors at the Vogtle plant through Southern Nuclear, and going over budget is not a concern because Georgia Power sells power in a regulated market. Georgia Power customers began paying for the new reactors as soon as construction began.
Most experts point to the soaring costs of construction of nuclear power plants as one reason for their decline. However, it's hard to dismiss the truth that natural gas and renewable energy sources are far cheaper. And we must remember that 20 percent of the carbon-neutral energy produced in the United States comes from the nation’s existing 99 nuclear power plants.
So if the South Carolina nuclear power plants are not finished, any hopes of nuclear power playing any kind of role in decarbonizing electricity generation are all but crushed. Actually, the last nuclear reactor completed in the U.S. was in the 1980s. And since 2013, five nuclear reactors have been retired.
Nuclear energy needed to mitigate climate change
With the advent of fracking, natural gas has become plentiful and is a lot cheaper than coal or nuclear power for producing electricity. In the last decade, natural gas has driven hundreds of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. out of business, in turn, causing an economic downturn in the coal industry.
This was one of the biggest reasons that carbon emissions fell 14 percent from 2005 to 2016. However, the impact of the natural gas industry is now being felt by nuclear power plant operators, forcing many reactors into early retirement. However, this could have a negative effect on mitigating climate change impacts.
“In any industry, if it’s not growing it’s dying,” Rich Powell, executive director of the ClearPath Foundation, said. “If we can’t keep some construction going, our already pretty challenged nuclear renaissance will become fully challenged.”
The expansion of the Vogtle Power Plant in Georgia is already four years behind schedule.
The expansion of the Vogtle Power Plant in Georgia is already four years behind schedule.
Westinghouse Electric Co.
The really sad part of this whole nuclear plant issue is that while the Department of Energy under Rick Perry is backing continued funding for nuclear projects, President Trump has spent more time talking about coal, while the White House’s proposed budget, if passed, would drastically reduce funding for the Energy Department's nuclear-energy office and eliminate the loan program altogether, according to the Washington Post.
The future of nuclear energy relies on technology
The future of nuclear energy will be the realm of companies pursuing new technologies, such as small nuclear reactors. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a type of nuclear fission reactor which is smaller than conventional reactors, and manufactured at a plant and brought to a site to be fully constructed.
Besides having less on-site construction involved, they are far more economical than full-scale reactors, while having increased containment efficiency and heightened nuclear materials security. SMRs are defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency as those with an electricity output of less than 300 MW.
NuScale power wants to build modular nuclear reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck.
NuScale power wants to build modular nuclear reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck.
NuScale Power, Inc., with headquarters in Tigard, Oregon, has been in business since 2007. NuScale claims they have designed an extraordinarily safe Integral Pressurized Water Reactor (IPWR) based on light water reactor technology proven in operation for over 70 years. Their power modules include the containment, reactor vessel, steam generators, and pressurizer, all in a compact system.
The modules, however, are exceptionally heavy, each weighing approximately 500 tons. Each module has an electrical output of 45 MW, and a single NuScale power plant can be scaled from one to 12 modules. As of 2014, the Department of Energy projected its technology would be commercially available around the year 2025.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Nuclear power, Natural gas, Climate change, small nuclear modules, Economics
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