FYI --Kathleen Pagan, Alachua County Senior Planner (Growth Management)
US eyes boom in nuclear reactors
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington
The Three Mile Island accident cast a shadow over the nuclear industry
Almost three decades have passed since the last application was filed to
build a new nuclear reactor in the US. Now, up to 30 are expected in the
next three years.
As time has passed, memories have faded of the 1979 radioactive leak at
the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania that threw the US
nuclear industry into disarray.
Meanwhile, energy security concerns and worries about climate change
have reshaped the debate, and financial incentives and a new licensing
process have altered the economics.
The first full application for two new reactors, in southern Texas, was
submitted at the end of September.
Another four are due by the end of the year and a dozen in 2008, many in
south-eastern states, the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
The earliest could be in operation by 2015.
A range of factors is fuelling the renewed enthusiasm:
* The introduction of a new fast-track combined construction and
operation permit, making new reactors easier and cheaper to build
* A tax credit, introduced in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, of 1.8
cents per kilowatt hour for the first 6,000 megawatts generated by
* Risk insurance adding up to $2bn for the first six plants to be
built, protecting companies against the cost of delays in construction
* Multi-billion-dollar loan guarantees
* A likelihood that the cost of emitting CO2 will rise as the
battle against climate change intensifies
But the impending flood of applications is fuelling a new row over
whether nuclear power represents a bold step to address 21st Century
needs or a mistaken return to flawed 20th Century technology.
Supporters say new reactors are the only way to meet a projected 40%
increase in US electricity demand by 2030 - a result of the country's
The nuclear fuel cycle
"Our country needs the electricity and it needs clean sources of
electricity that are reliable - and that's exactly what nuclear energy
is," says Steve Kerekes, spokesman for industry group the Nuclear Energy
Thanks to improvements in efficiency, 104 reactors across 31 states
already produce 20% of the nation's total electricity supply, he points
The NEI also argues that nuclear power is cleaner than gas and
coal-fired plants and says studies show that over a nuclear plant's
life-cycle - including construction and the mining of uranium ore - its
greenhouse gas emissions are comparable to those of wind and hydro
"We wouldn't pretend for a second that we should be 100% of our energy
supply going forward - but there is a role for us to play in a
diversified energy supply that includes renewables, coal and nuclear,"
says Mr Kerekes.
However, others dispute this.
This is a renaissance that is only proposed because of massive - you
could say unprecedented - federal subsidies
Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen
"It is absolutely not a clean energy source," says Tyson Slocum,
director of energy policy for public interest group Public Citizen.
"Does it produce less greenhouse gas emissions than coal or gas? Yes.
"But it produces waste potentially more problematic not only from the
mining aspect but from the high-level radioactive waste that a
commercial nuclear reactor is going to produce."
Mr Slocum says the industry's apparent renaissance is due very largely
to "massive - you could say unprecedented - federal subsidies".
"If you had a programme like this for wind and solar, wind and solar
would be the biggest energy sources in the next 20 years," he said.
The question of how nuclear waste is stored is already a controversial
issue in the US.
The issue of long-term nuclear waste storage remains uncertain
A planned national repository for spent fuel at Yucca Mountain in Nevada
has run into sustained opposition from some local lawmakers, including
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The government is due to submit an application to the NRC to start
construction at the site by 30 June next year. But while it is scheduled
to open before 2020, it could still be delayed or blocked altogether.
In the meantime, nuclear waste will continue to be stored on site at
Critics argue that this inevitably increases the risk that plants will
become a terror target, despite steps to give nuclear facilities extra
protection after 9/11.
Public reaction to the planned expansion in reactors has so far been
Opponents say that is because the nuclear lobby has exploited concerns
over climate change.
Campaigners fear a new reactor could harm Chesapeake Bay wildlife
But the NEI points to evidence that people living near existing plants
are more strongly in favour of nuclear power than the general public.
At least one proposal has sparked local opposition, however.
This is a bid by US energy firm Constellation, in partnership with
France's EDF, to build a new reactor at Calvert Cliffs in Maryland - the
companies filed a partial application in July and are due to file the
rest of the paperwork early next year.
In June, Green Party activist Steve Warner founded the Chesapeake Safe
Energy Coalition to fight the plan, bringing together local people,
environmental and public interest groups.
We would really like to see other forms of energy investigated
He argues the addition of a new reactor, generating as much power as the
two already at Calvert Cliffs, will push combined radioactive emissions
above safe levels.
Of particular concern to the campaigners is whether the reactor could
have an impact on the marine wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay, known for
its blue crabs.
The project has been backed by the Calvert County authorities because it
promises to create 700 jobs, but the coalition hopes to persuade the
state legislature to oppose it.
"The main focus is to not build any more reactors until we resolve the
waste issues and get some reasonable assurance of how they monitor the
emissions," Mr Warner said.
"We would really like to see other forms of energy investigated."
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