2008 MIT Energy Conference: Nuclear Power: Will There be 6 or 60 New Plants in the U.S.?
Nuclear power has a quiet and impressive recent history: nuclear plants supply 20% of U.S. electricity, have achieved industry-wide capacity factors greater than 90%, and have operated safely and inexpensively over the last decades. Despite this record-breaking performance, no new U.S. plants have been built in the last 30 years, and nuclear building infrastructure has atrophied. Incentives in the 2005 Energy Policy Act aim to re-start the American nuclear industry. These operate by authorizing loan guarantees and tax credits for the first 6,000 MWe of nuclear power (or about six plants) built in the United States. But what about future nuclear stations – will plant “Lucky Number 7” be built? Many utilities and reactor vendors are bullish about nuclear prospects, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects to receive about 14 license applications in 2008. None of the utilities, however, has yet firmly committed to building a plant. This panel will discuss the likelihood of financing, constructing, and operating new nuclear power stations. The finance challenge is daunting, as nuclear plant investments are particularly capital-intensive and construction costs in all sectors are skyrocketing. Further compounding the situation are delays in opening a spent fuel repository and other waste management issues. Bottlenecks in the supply chain and the aging nuclear work force represent two more hurdles. Nevertheless, nuclear power is the strongest candidate for immediately viable, carbon-free baseload electricity. Representatives from nuclear vendors, utilities, and the finance community explain why, and also highlight some of the challenges facing nuclear. Balancing the difficulties against numerous drivers, the panel offers insight into what we can expect from the nuclear fleet’s next generation.