CHARLOTTE, N.C.—New nuclear energy facility construction is benefiting in its early stages from lessons learned in overseas construction projects, an ample supply of skilled labor and low inflation rates, industry leaders were told today during the Nuclear Energy Institute’s annual conference.
“This is a great time to be building a nuclear plant,” said Stephen Byrne, chief operating officer and president of generation and transmission at South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. The utility is building two reactors with a combined electric-generating capacity of more than 2,200 megawatts at its V.C. Summer nuclear energy facility near Columbia, S.C.
Low inflation and state legislation that permits project costs to be largely paid as they are incurred have been “hugely helpful” financially, Byrne said. With the nation slowly rebounding from the economic recession, the V.C. Summer expansion project also has been able to draw upon an abundant supply of craft labor, he said.
“We have people knocking at the door” for the 2,000-plus construction jobs that the project will create over the next several years, Byrne said.
Ricardo Perez, president and COO of Westinghouse Electric Co., said more than 10,000 lessons learned have been identified in recent years during construction of Westinghouse’s AP1000 advanced-design reactor in China. These lessons are being applied to construction of the AP1000 reactors at V.C. Summer and at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, Ga., where Georgia Power is building two reactors.
The “fully global” nature of the nuclear energy sector—67 reactors are being built in 12 countries—means there will be more opportunities for U.S. energy companies to extract lessons. There also is a greater need for American industry leaders to embrace “multiculturalism” to better share the commitment to excellence among all owners and operators of nuclear energy facilities, Perez said.
The world’s need for abundant energy supplies can be seen in the huge percentage of economic activity tied to the transportation of information “bits” that could not occur without electricity, said Mark Mills, founder of Digital Power Group. Approximately $1.2 trillion of U.S. gross domestic product is associated with creating and transporting information, while only $500 billion is associated with transporting people or things, Mills said.
Mills added that distributed supercomputing—“the cloud”—and the prolific manufacturing of transistors to facilitate “connectivity” are trends that signal “a new revolution” in technology that will drive a greater need for reliable electricity.