SAN ANTONIO — Nuclear energy must continue to be an essential part of the future U.S. energy mix, but building new nuclear power plants is not a feat that can be undertaken by anyone, one industry leader said.
During the plenary session of the American Nuclear Society (ANS)’s annual meeting in San Antonio, several leaders spoke about the importance of nuclear energy and how it must be included in the country’s energy mix along with coal, natural gas and renewables.
“My view is that nuclear energy is a present part of the overall energy structure in the U.S.,” said Doyle Beneby, president and CEO of CPS Energy. “Nuclear will be a future and significant component of energy in the U.S.”
Beneby did note that nuclear energy has its shortcomings with cost overruns, and that power must be developed in the right locales in order to financially benefit everyone.
Tom Fanning, president, chairman and CEO of Southern Co. (NYSE:SO), noted that cost overruns and delays at two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors under construction at Plant Vogtle in Georgia may paint a negative light on nuclear in public opinion, but the long-term benefits exceed the cost increases.
“At first, we thought there would be a 12 percent cost increase when the project was first started,” Fanning said. “Now, we realize that 12 percent will be somewhere between 6 and 8 percent. Yes, we have had schedule changes, but quality is foremost in our minds.”
Fanning said that new nuclear is necessary for the future, but not every company is ready to build a nuclear power plant. Fanning said the ability to scale up the project, having financial integrity to withstand the long-term investment, and having the expertise are all important before undertaking a large-scale project.
“Those companies who fit that profile must go forward (with new nuclear),” Fanning said. “We’ve got to continue to develop new nuclear.”
That is not to say that utilities should not also develop renewable energy, coal and natural gas, but hedging all bets on one energy source over another is a big risk, Fanning said.
“I don’t believe having only renewables is possible,” Fanning said. “Wind and solar must be located in the best areas of the U.S., and we all know they are very intermittent sources. You have to move the energy resource to where the people are.”
Another point Fanning made is for the necessary improvements to cybersecurity and physical security of nuclear power plants.
“The electricity industry has been called out as a premier example of how cybersecurity is of the highest priority,” Fanning said. He used a sports analogy by former NHL player Wayne Gretzky in which Gretzky said hockey players must anticipate where the puck is going instead of where the puck currently is.
“We must build a defense strategy that anticipates where the puck will be,” Fanning said.
David Scott, former executive director of Economic and Energy Affairs at the Executive Affairs Authority in the United Arab Emirates, discussed how the UAE was able to get all hands on deck when it came to developing the country’s first nuclear power plants.
“Successful nuclear deployments usually begin with a sound pre-deployment process,” Scott said. That includes getting all stakeholders together, whether they are for or against nuclear power, and getting their input in the planning process.
Part of that input includes weighing the options of all electricity generating sources and grading their benefits and shortcomings. “We looked at coal, natural gas, solar, wind and waste energy and compared them in a rigorous process,” Scott said. “Nuclear came to the fore as part of the optimum solution.”
Scott also pointed out that future trends are necessary to predict if a power plant is the right choice, saying the industry must overcome the “psychology of now” in order to plan accordingly.
“Natural gas prices right now are very low, and it’s hard for some to imagine a time that they will be high,” Scott said. “But, 15 years ago, when natural gas prices were very high, nobody could imagine them being low. You have to look at trends of 30 years and beyond.”
Scott Tinker, director, Bureau of Economics Geology at the University of Texas-Austin, gave a geological view of the energy industry, saying that increased hydraulic fracturing will keep shale gas and oil in the energy mix for decades to come. However, he said nuclear and natural gas are going to be the energy resources of the 21st Century because of a need to lower emissions.
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