A mix of lucky timing and post-Fukushima recalibration appears to be responsible for a general mood of optimism at the first biennial World Nuclear Exhibition being held just outside of Paris this week.
The event, organized by the Association of French Nuclear Industry Exporters (AIFEN) has attracted 495 exhibitors and an estimated 7,000 visitors from 24 countries. Though “safety” is a key word in all comments, the Japanese disaster appears to no longer hold a pall over the nuclear industry. With 70 reactors under development today, according to AIFEN, and new countries joining the club, the business seems to be booming.
China, with 20 plants online and 28 in development, according to CNFC CEO Jiao ChengXiang, is largely responsible for the recent growth, but newcomers, including the United Arab Emirates—with three units under construction, are also behind a more global, cooperative industry.
As if to give a pat on the back to the industry, just a week prior to the event, the European Commission approved a financing plan for a new unit in the UK—Hinkley Point C.
Financing of nuclear power is a concern in the U.S. as well, of course. When asked by the morning session’s moderator how the nuclear industry can stay competitive, Exelon’s Joseph Dominguez, senior vice president, governmental & regulatory affairs and public policy, pointed to natural gas prices as driving the market for electricity and said that without some policy change, “as much as 25%” of the U.S. fleet could retire, according to one study.
But he also noted that there is support for nuclear power, including as part of the proposed Clean Power Plan. Policymakers have three concerns, Dominguez said: fuel diversity, onsite fuel (an issue underscored by last winter’s gas delivery problems), and carbon footprint. For its part, Exelon is taking plants from 40-year to 80-year lives, he added.
One of those U.S. policymakers, Tim G. Echols, one of five Georgia Public Service Commission commissioners, told POWER that in addition to the two Vogtle units under construction, “we’d like to build two more.” Echols described Georgia as the Silicon Valley of nuclear, and the state has a long history of industry involvement on both military and civilian sides. Even with bipartisan support for nuclear power, there are challenges. Financing is the most obvious, and Echols said that taking advantage of loan guarantees and production tax credits is essential. Closing the fuel cycle is also key to greater support for nuclear, he believes. As a first step toward recycling, he supports a consolidated waste site. Though reprocessing solves one problem, it raises another area of cost concerns, and Echols acknowledged that a mixed oxide fuel facility would also require subsidies.
—Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Editor