New nuclear plants can and will be built. Demand, cost and timing all play a part in the development of new nuclear facilities.
Myth: No new nuclear plants have been built in the past 30 years.
Fact: Construction of nuclear power plants continued into the mid-1990s. Forty-five reactors were completed and put into service in the 1980s and five in the 1990s. The TVA Watts Bar 1 plant in Tennessee was placed on line in 1996, and the Watts Bar 2 plant is being completed and is expected to begin operation in 2014. Four new Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors, two in Georgia for Southern Co. and two in South Carolina for SCANA, were approved in 2012 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and construction is under way.
Myth: New nuclear plants are too expensive to build.
Fact: While nuclear plants are capital-intensive projects, with construction costs estimated at $6 billion to $10 billion for a large reactor, the levelized cost of electricity over the life of the plants is competitive with other sources. Nuclear power plants are considered 60-year investments that provide fuel diversity and clean generation that provides a hedge against environmental compliance costs associated with carbon dioxide generation. For example, integrated utility resource planning shows that new nuclear plants will provide the least cost new electricity generation for consumers in Georgia, South Carolina and southern Florida. In fact, four new reactors are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina. For more information, see NEI’s white paper “The Cost of New Generating Capacity in Perspective.”
Myth: New nuclear plants are more expensive to build than renewable energy supplies.
Fact: The cost of new electricity generation, particularly for renewable energies that rely on natural resources, will vary based on location and existing infrastructure. Utility integrated resource planning and independent studies continue to show that new nuclear generation is economically competitive. For example, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the levelized costs (dollars per megawatt-hour) for new generation that will come on line in 2016 indicate that new nuclear is competitive with other clean energy technologies. Although project costs will vary significantly based on available infrastructure such as transmission lines and natural resources, EIA projects the following average cost for a variety of clean energy technologies: solar thermal 311.8, wind offshore 243.2, solar PV 210.7, coal with carbon capture storage (CCS) 136.2, nuclear 113.9, geothermal 101.7, wind on land 97.0, natural gas with CCS 89.3, coal conventional 94.8, and hydro 86.4.
Myth: Nuclear plants can’t be built fast enough.
Fact: In just 19 years, between 1970 and 1989, 105 nuclear energy plants were constructed and put into service in the United States. The current licensing and construction of new nuclear plants will take eight to 10 years, which is comparable to similar sized electricity sources. The timeline is expected to shorten to six years or less with licensing and construction experience. Building new nuclear plants will create thousands of non-exportable jobs, help revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector, and positively affect the U.S. economy and the environment.
Myth: New U.S. nuclear plants will suffer cost and schedule overruns.
Fact: Several new dynamics support the expectation that new U.S. nuclear projects will be completed on time and on budget: the new combined construction and operating license process, standardized plant designs, computer modeling, computer-aided modular construction, integrated engineering and construction schedules, and major changes to financing requirements.
Note: With few exceptions new nuclear plants are being completed on time and on budget overseas. Additionally, the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2007 completed a five-year, $1.8 billion refurbishment of the Browns Ferry Unit 1 reactor in northern Alabama on schedule and within budget. For more information, see the Nuclear Energy Insight article “TVA Restarts Browns Ferry Reactor.”
Myth: Most Americans do not support using nuclear energy.
Fact: A national poll performed a year after the accident in Fukushima, Japan, found that a majority of Americans support the use of nuclear energy. According to the March 2012 Gallup poll, “One year after the tsunami and resulting failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, a majority of Americans continue to favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S. The 57 percent who favor nuclear power this year is identical to the percentage measured in early March 2011, just before the Fukushima incident." A February 2012 national poll of 1,000 adults performed by Bisconti Research Inc./Gfk Roper found that solid majorities continue to have favorable opinions about nuclear energy and new plants, but at below peak levels. The survey found 64 percent in favor of nuclear energy and 33 percent opposed, compared with 62 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed in September 2011. While 28 percent strongly favor nuclear energy, 17 percent are strongly opposed. Attitudes toward nuclear energy stand at approximately the level seen in a large number of the surveys in the past decade but below pre-Fukushima peak of 74 percent in favor of nuclear energy. A near-consensus 82 percent agree with renewing the license of nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards, 74 percent believe that electric utilities should prepare now so that new nuclear power plants could be built if needed in the next decade, and 58 percent believe that we should “definitely build more nuclear power plants in the future.” Also, 81 percent believe that nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting the nation’s electricity needs in the years ahead; 42 percent think that role will be very important. Two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) said they would find a new reactor acceptable at the site of the nearest nuclear power plant that is already operating, if a new power plant were needed.