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Nuclear Here to Stay, Both in the U.S. and Globally, Says Industry Expert

By Dr. Heather Johnstone, Publisher, PennWell International

Nuclear power is by far the best low-carbon, high-power-density generation source currently available. So said John DeBruin, vice president of Nuclear Engineering at URS Corporation, in his fact-filled presentation at Power Generation Week yesterday morning.

DeBruin provided an extremely comprehensive overview of the status of both the global and North American nuclear power sectors and also touched upon the rapidly emerging small modular reactor (SMR) sector.

Worldwide there are 436 units currently available to operate, but more impressively an additional 544 reactors are either under construction or in the planning stages. Thus, few would disagree with DeBruin’s assessment that atomic power is set to continue to be a significant contributor to the world’s electricity generation portfolio.

Interestingly, growth in the sector is not across the board, with both North America and Western Europe expected to show a downward trend over the next couple of decades. So where is the growth in the sector slated to come from? Quoting recent figures from the International Atomic Energy Agency, DeBruin said the growth up to 2030 would be driven by both the Middle East and Asia.

In fact you can see this trend now. While much of Western Europe, excluding the UK and France, is turning its back on developing new nuclear plants, Asian nations — such as China, India and South Korea — have aggressive nuclear expansion programs in place. For example, South Korea is not only active in at least four domestic new-build projects but also has plans for life extensions of its existing nuclear fleet.

What is especially interesting about those three countries is that their respective nuclear sectors enjoy strong governmental commitment. According to DeBruin, this type of support is essential for the successful development of nuclear power. Using the U.S. as an example, he called for a “more robust energy policy” to accelerate nuclear power in the country.

Having said that, he then went to some lengths to emphasize that it was certainly not the case that the U.S. and the wider North American region were not active in nuclear power and confirmed that currently five reactors were under construction, representing more than 5,600 MWe of new capacity, and an additional eight COL (combined license) applications were under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In addition, 73 license extensions have been issued and several U.S. utilities are involved in power uprate programs.

He then switched the focus of his presentation to SMRs and gave a very bullish assessment of this technology’s potential market worldwide. DeBruin also recommended a report published this month by National Nuclear Laboratory in the UK, which provides in depth analysis of the global SMR market and its potential to 2035. The full market report can be accessed and downloaded from NNL’s website (www.nnl.co.uk).

The market study concludes that there is “a very significant market for SMRs where they fulfil a market need that cannot, in all circumstances, be met by large nuclear plants.” It proposed a market size of 65-85 GW by 2035 and a value of £250-400 billion (US$390-630 billion), especially in niche areas such as remote on-site power and desalination applications.

DeBruin said the biggest challenge facing the SMR sector was the need to bring down its high capital costs. If the industry can crack that through, for example, technology development, he felt confident that the sky would be the limit for nuclear power generation across the globe as we all move to a low-carbon future.

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