By Marilyn Kray, President, NuStart Energy Development, LLC
Last month, a public-private partnership designed to lay the foundation for new nuclear development ended its operations, following eight years of hard work and several successes.
NuStart Energy Development, LLC, composed of the 10 leading utilities in the U.S., led and motivated the licensing efforts for four new nuclear reactors in the United States, the first in a generation.
With all this recent activity, I’m often asked, “Is there a nuclear renaissance?” An impending renaissance has been a point of contention in the discussion of nuclear for the past decade.
Renaissance? Maybe. Success? Certainly.
“Change on the horizon …”
It’s almost difficult to remember what the public discussion of the nuclear industry was in 2004, when we started NuStart. Nuclear energy largely flew under the public’s radar, with plants operating safely.
A few utility executives saw the need for new nuclear plants on the horizon in the face of rising electricity usage. We founded NuStart with two objectives: Demonstrate the never-before-used NRC licensing process — developed more than a decade prior in 1992 — and complete the design engineering for the Westinghouse AP1000 technology.
At those first few meetings of NuStart members, we were filled with excitement. Maybe, if the stars aligned, at the end of this project we would complete the licensing for one nuclear plant. Just one. And that, to us, would be a nuclear renaissance.
Now, instead, the industry has four nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, 7,000 planned or in-process construction jobs and nearly 2,000 full-time, permanent jobs in South Carolina and Georgia.
DOE and Industry Leadership
Before NuStart’s launch, the Department of Energy also could see the need for new nuclear plants. It created the Nuclear Power 2010 initiative to help meet future energy needs.
After an award process, NuStart was funded by what was designed to be a 50-50 cost-shared program between the nuclear industry and the DOE.
The Nuclear Power 2010 Program matched the investments by NuStart. The reality, however, is that the program spurred investments well beyond the required match. DOE funding amounted to about $41 million for the new nuclear plant licensing process demonstration and about $314 million for development of the design certification of the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design.
NuStart and Westinghouse spending amounted to about $125 million and $850 million, respectively. These numbers indicate that each $1 of DOE funding directly spurred almost $3 of industry spending and investment in new nuclear plant licensing and design as a result of the program.
A conservative return on investment calculation shows that wages and salaries typical of each new job will have generated additional federal, state and local tax revenue amounts that have easily exceeded the investment. On top of the jobs, more than $2 billion of equipment and services has already been procured from U.S. companies for new plants.
The NuStart members collaborated to create economies of scale, sharing and doing what the nuclear industry does best – challenging each other to find the best outcome. Southern Nuclear and South Carolina Electric & Gas took the work of the 10 NuStart members and parlayed it into successful construction projects. They should be commended for their leadership.
Tomorrow’s Energy Innovation
With our job done, NuStart is disbanding, as planned. But we hope that NuStart’s legacy, and the best practices it established, will inform yet another generation of new nuclear plants.
Earlier this year, Energy Secretary Steven Chu introduced new opportunities to promote innovative research and development for the next generation of nuclear power plants. This support provides the potential to expand the nation’s options for nuclear power as well as to further the nation’s competitive edge in the global clean energy race.
What we need to do next is take the Nuclear Power 2010 model and apply it to tomorrow’s energy innovation through initiatives such as the DOE’s Small Modular Reactor Program. Building the next generation of nuclear power is a very realistic prospect. If NuStart showed us anything, it’s that when our industry collaborates and shares best practices, it can only mean more safe, clean and reliable energy for America.
Here’s to the future.