CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Increased global reliance on nuclear energy will maintain the U.S. capability to build new nuclear energy facilities when the need for accelerated expansion arises in America, the chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute predicted today.
“I am confident that the need for new nuclear power plants will emerge beyond 2020 because the long-term fundamentals for nuclear energy remain sound,” said William Johnson, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy. Johnson also serves as NEI chairman.
Johnson reminded industry leaders at NEI’s annual conference that the International Energy Agency reported last month that the world’s electricity production from nuclear energy facilities must nearly double by 2025 to help meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.
“Significant growth in global nuclear development continues to open markets for U.S. suppliers and vendors,” Johnson said. “Our commercial reactor supply chain continues to grow and add thousands of jobs due to the export of reactor technology, components and services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nuclear energy sector accounted for 54 percent of all ‘green’ jobs in the electric sector in 2010.”
Nuclear energy provides 14 percent of electricity supplies worldwide; in the United States, facilities operating in 31 states produce electricity for one of every five U.S. homes and businesses. Sixty-seven reactors are under construction worldwide, including five in the United States—two each in Georgia and South Carolina and one in Tennessee.
“Nuclear energy will be even more important in the future as we look for ways to meet the energy demands of the seven billion people across the globe cleanly and reliably,” Johnson said. “Working together, we will keep earning a strong place in a diverse, balanced energy portfolio as our nation and world make the transition to a lower-carbon economy.”
He called on industry leaders to focus intensely on three key objectives:
leadership for industry employees
a coherent regulatory and public policy framework for the industry.
“Operational safety is a prerequisite to any other agenda that our industry may have. Safety first is our highest responsibility and is foundational for our future,” Johnson said.
As the industry implements safety enhancements in response to last year’s Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan, it is important to recognize that there are limits to industry and regulatory resources, Johnson cautioned.
“We must maintain our focus on safe operation and not be diverted by secondary issues,” he said. “Actions must be prioritized among all the regulatory issues so as not to distract from the safe operation of our facilities.”
Challenges slowing the pace of expansion in the United States—chiefly low natural gas prices and sluggish growth in electricity demand—reinforce the need for the nuclear energy industry to adapt and improve, Johnson said.
“Continuous improvement is one of our industry’s strengths. It is how we have maintained the average capacity factor of our nuclear energy facilities at about 90 percent for the past decade.”
Johnson expressed confidence that by focusing on safety, nurturing innovative thinking and working together on a coherent regulatory and policy framework, industry leaders can make it possible for nuclear energy “to fulfill its enormous potential at home and abroad.”
“This strategic agenda will lead to a stronger and even safer nuclear industry—one that fosters the expansion of nuclear energy, powers America’s economic growth and sustains our environment.”