Despite Difficulties, Nuclear Energy Will Regain Strength

From Forbes

By Ken Silverstein

The Japanese nuclear accident in March 2011 may have knocked out the sector’s wind. But the industry now says that it has regained its momentum. Here in the United States, five new plants are expected to be operational by the end of the decade while internationally, 70 such facilities are planned.

Nuclear energy advocates are still battling the same longtime foes. But the industry feels that once the new plants with modern safeguards get up and running, those facilities will prove their value. The harder sell, right now, is the financial justification. Why spend $10-$15 billion to build a new nuclear facility when market conditions now favor combined-cycle natural gas plants that are much cheaper and easier to permit?

“The long-term fundamentals continue to support this technology,” says Marvin Fertel, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Institute, before Wall Street analysts. He adds that the average capacity factor — a measurement of operational efficiency — has been about 90 percent for the past decade. Further, the uranium to fuel those reactors is plentiful while the environmental impact is relatively benign.

The utilities with active construction efforts are Southern Company, Scana Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Southern Co. and its partners are building two new units where two other other nuclear reactors now reside. The total price tag is estimated at $14 billion. Of that, the partnership will snag an $8 billion loan guarantee while it puts up $6 billion of its money.

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