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  • Is a Nuclear Renaissance Approaching?

    When the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted last week to approve permits to begin construction on two nuclear reactors, many hailed the decision as the start of a nuclear renaissance. Without a doubt, the NRC’s action is noteworthy, because it marks the first time in over three decades that the NRC granted a license to build new reactors.

    While the NRC’s action should not be downplayed, it’s also important to place this decision in the appropriate context of our nation’s nuclear energy policy. To say this represents a full-scale rebirth of the nuclear industry would be both narrow-sighted and naïve. The Vogle Plant approval does not mitigate the reality that our nation’s nuclear energy policy is in dire need of reform.

    However, just because the decisions last week alone are not enough to prompt a full-blown nuclear resurgence, that doesn’t mean that one cannot occur. To maximize the full potential of nuclear energy, three fundamental policy issues should be addressed. The U.S. should:

    1. Fix how nuclear waste is managed,
    2. Develop a more efficient regulatory regime for nuclear energy, and
    3. Allow market forces to determine what technologies move forward.

    Our nation’s current approach to managing nuclear waste is flawed. Private nuclear plants produce waste, but the federal government is responsible for managing it. This removes the incentive for the nuclear utilities to have any interest in how the waste is managed. The nuclear industry is capable of running safe nuclear power plants, is fully capable of managing its own waste, and should have the responsibility to do so. Introducing market forces to waste management will transform the way U.S. handles waste and is critical to securing the long-term success of nuclear power.

    Next, the government should address the inflexible and often unpredictable regulatory regime that governs the nuclear industry. Rather than providing fair and efficient oversight, current regulations impose unnecessary and harmful barriers that prevent our nation from realizing nuclear industry’s full potential. Additionally, inefficient licensing and rulemaking are responsible for increasing investors’ financial risks and creating a virtual suspension of technological development. The federal government should establish a stable regulatory environment—one that also eliminates burdensome and ineffective regulations—that is conducive to commercial nuclear growth.

    Unfortunately, nuclear energy advocates have largely turned to federal subsidies to mitigate the financial risks associated with our nation’s outdated regulatory system. And that brings us to the third reform, which is to abandon the flawed notion that the government can subsidize the nuclear industry into success.

    Subsidies discourage innovation and perpetuate mediocrity. The United States does not need the government to dictate how it produces energy, and government bureaucrats should step aside and allow market forces to determine the future of the nuclear industry. Combined with a regulatory system that allows for technological diversity, this approach would also encourage the introduction of new technologies and services into the market as they are needed.

    While the approval of construction and operations permits for two reactors was welcomed news, it does not by itself portend a happy ending for nuclear energy. For the rest of America to share with Georgia the opportunities provided by nuclear power, much more must be done.

    Posted in Energy, Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Is a Nuclear Renaissance Approaching?

    1. In regard to issue #1: fortunes are made when paradigms change. The unquestioned cliché that this material is “waste” needs to be challenged.

      The fact is, there remains vast amounts of energy in this once-used LWR fuel. The decay heat being given off by the 3% of the material that are fission products is reliable and predictable to a fraction of a calorie per gram. In fact it is so reliable that no one knows how to turn it off. This “problem” is in fact a solution to any process that can utilize a constant source of low-grade heat over a period of several centuries. Get the fear-mongerers out of the way and send in the engineers.

      The remaining 97%, consisting of fissionable uranium or transuranic isotopes, is capable of producing massive amounts of energy in Generation IV fast-neutron spectrum reactors. There is enough fissionable material already mined, processed, and refined already on US soil to supply the country with electric power for more than a century if it is utilized properly, and not just buried in a ludicrously expensive desert tomb.

    2. It has been estimated that the value of electricity that could be generated from this “waste”, if utilized in a Gen IV reactor, would be $30 Trillion: http://bravenewclimate.com/about/faq

      If Nevadans are smart, they will not only charge a hefty fee for accepting the “waste”, but will insist on taking title to it, thereby positioning themselves as the Saudi Arabia of Gen IV atomic fuel.

    3. Bill W says:

      From Thorium and LFTR Top Ten Attributes
      "LFTR is more efficient, extracting significantly more energy from abundant, inexpensive thorium than solid-fuelled reactors can from more scarce and costly uranium. Conventional reactors consume less than one percent of their solid uranium fuel, leaving the rest of the fuel as waste. LFTR consumes 99% of its liquid thorium derived fuel, and the remaining one percent is even useful for space exploration.
      LFTR can fully consume long-lived plutonium and uranium fissile materials remaining in spent solid nuclear fuel stockpiles while bringing many gigawatts of LFTR power generation online, with thorium as the sole input thereafter. Most LFTR byproducts are stable within a decade and have commercial value; the remaining have a half-life of 30 years, decaying to stability within hundreds rather than tens of thousands of years."

    4. Bill W says:

      From Forbes http://www.forbes.com/sites/kirksorensen/2011/07/
      "There is $25 billion in the Nuclear Waste Fund of the United States. Right now it is legally obligated to go towards the opening of Yucca Mountain. Not “some waste repository”, but Yucca Mountain. This will not change until the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act is amended or repealed, regardless of the actions of the President. To change the NWPA, you have to convince 39 states that you have a better plan for nuclear “waste” than Yucca Mountain, and that will likely be an uphill battle for any Congress or administration.

      But, if the 1982 NWPA is changed, then the monies in the Nuclear Waste Fund could be applied to building fast reactors that will consume and destroy the long-lived components of the waste, particularly plutonium. And if that direction is taken, the salt-based fast reactor is a much better choice than the sodium-cooled, solid-fueled fast reactor. It will be safer, cheaper, more-effective, and more flexible."

    5. allen says:

      Why can't the US get this salt-based reactors started?

    6. Oscar Manful says:

      The Fukishima nuclear disaster offers important lessons for the use and management of nuclear power.

      Greater state control as well as increased corporate influence can also prevent such disasters. Therefore, America should be more cautious as far as the use of nuclear power is concerned.

      The safety of the general public as well efficacy are all matters that should be looked at in order to introduce these options to powering America.

    7. charleynash says:

      In Nevada there are lots of very deep, glass-lined holes from underground Nuke testing decades ago. Why can't nuclear waste be poked down into those holes? It couldn't make them any more toxic.

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