Atlanta, Ga., May 1, 2001 New nuclear power plants that use advanced technology for even greater safety can be developed if they receive adequate support from the federal government and the public, an executive of the fastest-growing national operator of nuclear power plants predicted at a power meeting Monday.
Although public support for building new nuclear plants is high and growing, overcoming a BANANA mindset in California and elsewhere - Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody - could be difficult in some areas, said Dan Keuter, vice president of Entergy Nuclear and Entergy's executive responsible for buying nuclear plants.
"Nuclear energy has so many advantages to our society that we cannot afford to continue excluding it from meeting our future power needs," he said. "When consumers consider nuclear energy's advantages, their support will be forthcoming. That is happening now."
He outlined what it would take for energy companies like Entergy Nuclear to consider building new nuclear power plants. The list includes a dependable early siting regulatory process, a safe and low-cost plant design, approval of a federal nuclear waste repository, long-term natural gas prices in the $4 to $6 per million cubic feet range to keep nuclear economics competitive, reasonable environmental credits for avoiding carbon dioxide emissions, and public confidence in new nuclear designs.
Keuter said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already adopted an early siting process permitting the site of a new plant to be qualified, then "banked" until a company is ready to take the financial risk of starting construction. Entergy Nuclear may select one or two early site locations in support of an industry task force to find faster, lower cost ways of building new nuclear plants.
"New power plants, whether nuclear or not, are going to be built in a new deregulated marketplace. The generating companies who build them will not have utility regulators who can approve passing the costs on to consumers. Only stockholders will be taking the financial risk, and investors are not going to do that without reasonable certainty that a new plant can be designed, built, and licensed within a predictable time and cost," Keuter said.
Advanced reactors have been designed that are much simpler. "And simpler usually means safer and less costly."
Both General Electric and Westinghouse have new advanced water reactor designs, the NRC has certified them as safe, and they are on the shelf, ready to build.
Next generation reactors are being developed that operate at lower temperatures with helium rather than water coolant and do not need special safety systems to keep them cool, making them meltdown-proof. Evacuation plans would not be needed since, even if the plant lost its own power source, the reactor cannot get hot enough to release radiation externally.
"Nuclear engineers can see the way to do it," Keuter said. A joint effort of nuclear companies and the government could provide the resources to bring these safer, lower cost, and simpler designs to the commercial market.
The Entergy executive said he felt the nation is beginning to recognize the energy and environmental benefits provided by nuclear energy. A national public opinion survey by Bisconti Research showed in October 1999 that 42 percent felt more nuclear plants should be built. In March this year, 66 percent felt that new nuclear plants should be built to meet growing power demand. An Associated Press poll last week showed more than 50 percent support using nuclear energy, and 56 percent of those said they would not mind having a nuclear plant within 10 miles of their homes.
Entergy Corporation, based in New Orleans, is a global energy company and is one of the largest power generators in the nation with more than 30,000 megawatts of generating capacity, about $9 billion in annual revenue, and over 2.5 million customers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
Entergy Nuclear, the second largest U.S. nuclear plant operator, operates five nuclear units from its Southwest regional headquarters in Jackson, Miss., and three units from its Northeast regional headquarters in White Plains, N.Y. Entergy has agreed to purchase two nuclear units just north of New York City from Con Edison and expects to close that transaction this summer. Entergy Nuclear also furnishes life cycle management and decommissioning services to the nuclear power industry through its subsidiary, TLG Services Inc., Bridgewater, Conn.