"The Russian Nuclear Industry: Status and Prospects," a February report from a Canadian-based think tank, Centre for International Governance Innovation, examines a revival of Russia’s Soviet-era plans for a massive nuclear expansion within the current state of the country’s nuclear power industry. It concludes that although the industry has been greeted with renewed funding and enthusiasm, achieving its ambitious plans will require the federation to overcome considerable problems and limitations.
The pace at which next-generation nuclear power is developing in the U.S. accelerated this February as the U.S. arm of Toshiba inked an engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) agreement with an advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR) nuclear development company jointly owned by NRG Energy and Japan’s Toshiba Corp. The agreement seeks to ensure that the two ABWRs planned to expand the South Texas Project (STP) in Bay City, Texas, will be constructed on time, on budget, and to exacting standards.
For the past 26 years, Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) has hosted an annual conference in Houston that is world-renowned for its high-profile speakers and attendees’ willingness to exchange ideas and share industry forecasts. The consensus this year was that the power industry remains strong but market and political forces, often working at cross-purposes, make bringing any new power generation to market more problematic than ever.
A professor and consultant who has experience and connections with just about every part of the nuclear power world concludes that the U.S. will need to add 900 nuclear reactors in the next quarter century.
Despite hostilities that linger as a result of the 1986 nuclear nightmare at Chernobyl, Ukraine, and pressure from the European Union to shut down older-generation plants, Eastern European countries from the Baltic to Bulgaria are renovating existing nuclear plants or building new ones. If these projects become reality, the region will be able to secure its power supplies as well as cover the ongoing shortages in countries such as Greece, Macedonia, and Albania.
China has put its nuclear power plans on a fast track, kicking off a construction frenzy worth billions of dollars. In the latter months of 2008, the nation inaugurated construction of seven reactors, and in 2009, work will begin on another 10.
A year after Exelon Nuclear ceremoniously announced the selection of General Electric-Hitachi’s Economic & Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR) design (Figure 2) as its preferred technology for a proposed two-unit nuclear facility in Victoria County, Texas, the operator of the largest nuclear power fleet in the U.S. — and the third-largest in the world — said it had reconsidered its decision. The company said it is now negotiating separately with Toshiba and GE-Hitachi, both vendors of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), and with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for its U.S. Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor (US APWR).
The future of high-level nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain remains uncertain as a new U.S. administration considers its nuclear agenda. The European Union’s policies remain just as unsettled. With new projects under construction in several countries and a nuclear ban in effect in others, no unified long-term storage approach is in sight.
Though the resurgence of interest in nuclear power in recent years has spurred development of an assortment of reactor designs, emphasis has mostly been on those with capacities to produce thousands of megawatt-hours of baseload power, as is the case with designs from General Electric, AREVA, Westinghouse, and Mitsubishi that are under active review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Power projects using any of those designs will be developed at the cost of many billions of investment dollars.
The U.S. power industry’s story in 2009 will be all about change, to borrow a now-familiar theme. Though the new administration’s policy specifics hadn’t been revealed as POWER editors prepared this report, it appears that flat load growth in 2009 will give the new administration a unique opportunity to formulate new energy policy without risking that the lights will go out.