What is the nuclear renaissance?
After the Three Mile Island accident, many nuclear power plant orders were cancelled, bringing growth of the industry in the USA to a halt. Today, people are recognizing nuclear power’s capabilities to ease our concerns about global warming. We in the nuclear industry are noticing the phrase: “Nuclear Renaissance” slipping into our everyday vocabulary to describe the sentiment that nuclear power is about to enjoy a major comeback. Here, we discuss issues pertinent to this expected revival of growth.
Items relevant to the nuclear renaissance
As described elsewhere on whatisnuclear.com, nuclear power is a major player in fighting global warming. The nuclear renaissance gets stronger as more members of the public and their representatives realize this. Without global warming and pollution concerns, coal would have very few drawbacks, and nuclear would not be seen as so pressing.
The generation gap
When the nuclear industry’s growth stopped after TMI, nuclear engineering department enrollments across the United States fell. Only a few young people could be hired during this time, and the experts aged. Now, a majority of the nuclear engineers in the industry are nearing the age of retirement. Utilities, reactor vendors, regulators, and consulting firms recognize the problem of losing experienced employees and are working hard to transfer knowledge from the older workers to the younger generation. Developing countries will require huge amounts of energy
Developing countries will require huge amounts of energy
China and India are rapidly industrializing. As they grow, we can expect their per capita energy usage to approach that of Europe and the USA. With such large populations, the energy demands will soon be staggering. According to an article in the CSM, these two countries are likely to be emitting an extra 1123 million tons of CO2 by 2012 due to new coal plants to meet part of their energy needs. China is aggressively pursuing nuclear power, with eight nuclear plants under construction. They have even ordered several AP1000 plants from the US-based Westinghouse vendor. In the nuclear renaissance, these developing countries are major players due to scale of energy and resources required to industrialize.
South Texas Project
In September 2007, the utility company, NRG Energy, submitted a combined construction and operating license (COL) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for two new nuclear reactors in Texas[full story]. This is the first license application in the USA in over 30 years. The reactors will be Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWRs) – a newer design but one that has been built in Asia.
Japan Steel Works is the only facility capable of forging a pressure vessel.
The pressure vessel of a nuclear reactor is a large cylinder that surrounds the nuclear fuel undergoing a chain reaction. Pressurized water within the vessel flows past the fuel, transferring the heat to turbines. The steel pressure vessel is victim to high doses of radiation, and can suffer embrittlement with time. The welds are the most vulnerable parts of the vessel. Thus, we want to build the vessels with no welds near the centerline of the core, where the radiation dose is highest. Only one facility in the world can forge such a vessel: Japan Steel Works in Muroran, Japan, and they can only forge 4 of them per year. Thus, there is a large backlog for pressure vessel orders from many utilities planning to build reactors in the next few years. If a nuclear renaissance is to happen, more of these forging facilities will be required.
New reactor in Finland
The large French nuclear company, Areva, is building a new reactor in Finland. The reactor, called the Olkiluoto 3 project, will be the first to be built of Areva’s new reactor design – the European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR). Find more info at the project website (optimized for IE).
France is 80% nuclear
France gets about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power.
Public approval of nuclear power is very high.
A 2005 survey suggests that 70% of Americans now favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity. This rating is higher than it has been since at least 1983.
The nuclear industry is operating better than ever
The percentage of time that a plant is producing full power is called its capacity factor. The average US capacity factor has risen from around 50% to 90% since the 1970s. With better operational experience, the plants are having less problems and producing more power. This explains how nuclear remains at 20% of the US electricity generation even though no new plants have been built in many years.