Nuclear industry looks to expand output with new reactors

The U.S. nuclear industry is generating less electricity as reactors are decommissioned, but now nuclear plant operators want to nearly double their output over the next 30 years, according to industry trade associations.

The massive scale-up envisioned by the utility depends on the capabilities of a new type of nuclear reactor that is much smaller than conventional reactors. About two dozen U.S. companies are developing advanced reactors, some of which could come online by the end of the decade if the technology is successful and approved by federal regulators.

Utilities projects that are members of the Nuclear Energy Institute could add 90 gigawatts of nuclear power to the U.S. grid, most of which will come online in 2050, according to the association. Maria Kornick, the institute’s president and chief executive, estimates that’s the equivalent of about 300 new small modular reactors.

“We have innovation, we have capability, we have American ingenuity,” she said. “There’s no reason we can’t bring these products to market.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. nuclear power generation peaked at 102 gigawatts in 2012, when there were 104 operating nuclear reactors. The country currently has 92 operating reactors with a capacity of nearly 95 GW.

They will generate 778 million MWh of electricity in 2021, 1.5% less than the previous year, and account for 19% of the country’s electricity, the Information Agency said. That’s enough to power more than 70 million homes.

Building large conventional nuclear power plants is expensive and time-consuming. A project in Georgia — the only nuclear plant under construction in the United States — is now expected to cost its owners more than $30 billion. When approved in 2012, the first new nuclear reactor to be built in decades was estimated to cost $14 billion.

Korsnick will speak to industry leaders and policymakers in Washington on Tuesday for the NEI’s Nuclear Energy Conference session on the possibility of doubling U.S. nuclear energy production. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Kathryn Huff will discuss U.S. nuclear energy priorities and goals for a low-carbon economy.

Korsnick, who spoke exclusively to The Associated Press ahead of the meeting, said it was not wishful thinking. The demand for so much nuclear power has a lot of interest at the federal and state levels as companies work to meet customer expectations and deliver on their commitment to reducing carbon emissions, and unlike traditional reactors, small reactors can be built primarily in a factory setting.

She acknowledged challenges such as the need to speed up the regulatory process to get reactor permits, supply chains that need to be developed and the need for more financial incentives, as the federal government has done in the past few years to expand renewable energy projects. the past ten years.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, the largest public utility in the United States, launched a program in February to develop and finance new small modular nuclear reactors as part of its strategy to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Biden administration has embraced nuclear power to help reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. It launched a $6 billion effort in April to rescue nuclear plants at risk of closing, citing the need to continue nuclear power as a carbon-free energy source. Help to combat climate change. Most U.S. nuclear power plants were built between 1970 and 1990, making it more expensive to operate an aging fleet.

When the U.S. Department of Energy requested $1.7 billion for the Office of Nuclear Energy in its fiscal 2023 budget in April, it said it was one of the highest requests for nuclear energy ever. The sector is investing in advanced reactors.

An Associated Press survey of energy policy in all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that an overwhelming majority (about two-thirds) believe nuclear energy will help replace fossil fuels in one way or another.

The more people focus on carbon-free electricity, the more “nuclear power will be better,” Korsnick said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists warns that nuclear technology still presents significant risks that other low-carbon energy sources do not, including the risk of radioactive waste and reactor accidents or targeted attacks, and unresolved questions about how to store dangerous nuclear waste. The group is not opposed to the use of nuclear energy, but wants to make sure it is safe.

The Environmental Working Group said small reactors would be a “full-blown financial meltdown” because the cost of nuclear power would never fall and the cost and risk would be passed on to taxpayers.

The Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis analyzed a small modular nuclear reactor developed by NuScale Power in Oregon and concluded that it was “too expensive, too risky and too uncertain.” The company said the report mischaracterized NuScale’s costs, did not accurately reflect or examine timelines, or even understand output.

When companies show that test reactors can be built on budget and on time, they will “sell like a hot cake,” Korsnick said. She pointed to Wyoming, where communities are racing to get Bill Gates’ demonstration projects. TerraPower chose Kemmerer, which has relied on coal for more than a century.

Korsnick said she is bullish on the future opportunities for nuclear power.

“No matter how you slice it, it goes back to nuclear being a big part of the solution,” she said.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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