How many nukes are under Construction? Beats us

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., February 22, 2013 – How many new nuclear reactors are under construction in the world today? That seems like a straightforward question with an easy answer.

Wrong. It’s a figure that defies precision. Ask Tom Nauman, a veteran of the Shaw Group, which became a part of CB&I (nee Chicago Bridge & Iron) officially on February 13, 2013, and he will tell you the answer is 60. That’s what he told a Platts nuclear power conference in Washington this week. But Nauman warned that his figure was controversial.

Sure enough, within the hour, Richard Myers, a recovering journalist who heads the policy group at the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s Washington lobbying group, told the assembly that the number is 71. Myers describes himself as possessing “rat-like cunning.” Smirking, he was, as he asserted NEI’s number.

Who is right? Who knows? Consult Google, the font of all wisdom these days, and you get contradictory numbers. The European Nuclear Society says 68. The World Nuclear Association carefully hedges and says “over 60.”

Why is the number so slippery? Some plants that are under construction – the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar 2 — are projects that have restarted after decades in mothballs. Are these new projects? Some say yes, some say no. Does one credit the word of national governments, such as China, which have a well-earned reputation of counting plants that, upon scrutiny, appear to be under construction only in Cloud Cuckoo Land?

So the best answer is probably to stick with Tom Nauman, who has no reason to inflate the figure, and reject NEI’s Richard Myers, who has every reason to puff up the numbers in order to inflate the importance of his lobby. For the moment, let’s stick with 60. Or not.