NEW ORLEANS—The resurgence of nuclear energy in the United States is rooted in the industry’s success in collectively meeting the challenges before it – a truth that must continue for the nation to benefit from the next generation of nuclear power plants, industry leaders were told here today.
Gathered at the industry’s annual conference, more than 300 executives were challenged to continue to work together to maintain electric sector-leading levels of performance at nuclear power plants and to remove the few obstacles that lie on the path to construction of technologically advanced-designed reactors.
“Our charge is to create our future,” said Joe Colvin, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s president and chief executive officer. “When we’ve done that in the past, higher levels of safety, performance and public confidence have prevailed. Safe operations are not only our top priority; they are the pathway to future success.”
Colvin identified three “imperatives” the industry must achieve to ensure that Americans can continue to rely on nuclear energy as the nation’s largest emission-free electricity source. They are:
Complete the transition to a safety-focused regulatory framework that permits power plant employees and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to devote time and resources to those aspects of plant operations that are most safety-significant.
Secure and maintain a stable, predictable and competitive uranium fuel supply. While fuel costs are a fraction of nuclear plant production costs, spot prices for uranium oxide rose significantly in the first quarter of this year, and new investment in uranium mining and production is needed.
Meet the milestones for opening of the used nuclear fuel repository planned for Yucca Mountain, Nev. The Energy Department plans in December to submit a license to the NRC to begin construction of the state-of-the-art disposal facility and to open the facility in 2010 at the earliest.
NEI’s new chairman, George Hairston III, the president and CEO of Southern Nuclear Operating Co., sounded a similar theme in his state-of-the-industry remarks to conference participants.
“To look at the events of 2003 is to see that the state of our industry is strong,” Hairston said. He identified steps taken to make nuclear plant security even more robust than it already was, the Department of Energy’s preparations to submit a license application to the NRC for the Yucca Mountain repository, and bipartisan congressional support for energy policies that recognize the value of nuclear power to the nation’s mix of energy sources.
He also emphasized that safe operations must remain the industry’s priority.
“No matter what else happens in our business, safety has to come first,” Hairston said. “For a long time it’s been clear we are the safest sector of the American energy infrastructure. We’re safe for workers who average 1/12 the injury rate of American manufacturing plants, year after year. We’re safe for communities.
“But we can always do better. In 2003 we did. NRC indicators demonstrate that the industry is performing at extraordinarily high levels. In fact, three-quarters of our reactors have all green performance indicators—the highest level of performance in the NRC reactor oversight program. We also saw capital improvements that enhanced safety and performance for the long term.”
Hairston and Colvin noted that in recent weeks three separate consortiums of energy companies, reactor manufacturers and architect-engineering firms have submitted proposals to the Department of Energy to partner with the agency to test the NRC’s process for obtaining a combined construction and operating license for a new nuclear plant. This streamlined but untested permitting process was established in the 1992 Energy Policy Act. It was not available to companies that built existing reactors, and were required to obtain separate construction and operating licenses from the NRC.
“The market conditions and economics ultimately will determine the timing of a new plant order,” Colvin said. “It’s gratifying for our industry that some senior federal policymakers are pushing hard to bring that first new plant order to reality.
“We have no better opportunity than now to reach out to our congressional delegations and to our state and local leaders to the financial community to communicate our progress to date and cultivate the right environment for a new generation of nuclear power plants and stronger public support for the future of our industry.”
Hairston added, “We have been planning for a very bright future in recent months. We see the signals everywhere that it is time to pave the way for the possibility of building new nuclear power plants. We need to stimulate investment, not hamstring it.”
Nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.