This was the question that a panel of experts in industry and government tackled today during a briefing series sponsored by the United States Energy Association, “Making New Plants in the U.S. a Reality.” The experts discussed some of the challenges in the road head and what is already being done to meet them.
From the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, David Matthews shared what the NRC has done to help streamline the process while still remaining an independent regulatory body. He explained how much has been done since the last boom in nuclear reactor construction to maintain the highest level of safety, but practical processes are in place to utilize the standard designs developed by the industry for the U.S. market.
Another challenge that has been growing during the current economic situation is financing these projects. While a nuclear reactor is a major capital investment in the beginning, explained Leslie Kass of the Nuclear Energy Institute, nuclear energy is actually very cost-effective in the long run. As nuclear facilities are relatively inexpensive to operate, the levelized costs over the 60 year lifetime make it a very attractive investment. However, it is necessary to have this long term vision to encourage investment in the U.S. market now to have both the profit and energy infrastructure in the future.
Providing an industry perspective, Harold Thornberry of Shaw and Tom Williamson from AREVA, shared what achievements have already been made in the new nuclear construction underway around the globe. These projects, in Finland, France, and China, are already providing critical ‘lessons learned. These important pieces of information are being tracked and applied to subsequent projects, including the reactor designs slated for construction in the United States that will provide significant reductions in costs and time. Closing the panel presentations, AREVA’s Williamson summarized saying “Building today means energy and economic security tomorrow.”