WASHINGTON—Millions of people depend on nuclear technology for clean, reliable electricity, life-saving medical procedures, food irradiation and other benefits that make it imperative that the nuclear energy industry thrives in a competitive marketplace, the Nuclear Energy Institute's vice chairman told attendees at the industry's annual conference today.
"Millions of people in America and around the world need us to work as one so they can continue to enjoy the benefits of this amazing technology," said Christian H. Poindexter, NEI vice chairman and chairman, president and chief executive officer of Constelltion Energy Group Inc. In a state of the industry speech to 250 conference attendees, Poindexter said, "I want to remind everyone in this room that this industry's many achievements since its birth have resulted from years and years of perseverance and unity. As our industry transitions to competition from a cost-of-service environment, we must continue to work together to ensure that nuclear technology is available for the millions of people who depend on it."
The U.S. nuclear energy industry has 103 operating reactors supplying nearly 20 percent of the nation's electricity needs. The industry "is poised for a bright future" framed by past successes and key opportunities that are at hand, Poindexter said.
"This optimism is not based on a starry-eyed attraction to a new technology, but it's founded on the environmental contributions and the economic potential of well-run nuclear power plants in a competitive marketplace. Our bright future is also founded on the collective strength of the industry. We have amassed more than 2,000 years of reactor operating experience. We have compiled an industrial safety record that is second to none. And our improved performance now has policymakers considering seriously a revival of nuclear energy," Poindexter said.
The industry in 1998 set a record capacity factor of 79.6 percent, Poindexter noted. To build upon this record of achievement, he said, the industry must seize three key opportunities:
1. Maximize asset value by "getting down to the business of nuclear energy."
2. Support a regulatory process conducive to competition.
3. Leverage nuclear energy's environmental benefits.
The business of nuclear energy requires more than incremental improvements in performance and efficiency, Poindexter said, adding, "We must think strategically and act in fundamentally new ways."
As an example, he cited the applications that Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and Duke Energy Co. have filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to renew the operating licenses for, respectively, their Calvert Cliffs and Oconee nuclear power plants.
"We've been working together with NEI and other companies interested in license renewal, and we're paving the way for what I hope will be a groundswell of applications to extend the licenses. The fact remains, if you are serious about getting down to the business of nuclear energy, and if you are serious about maximizing your asset value, then license renewal must become an absolute business imperative."
Poindexter applauded the recent announcement that four midwestern utilities—Northern States Power Co., Wisconsin Electric, Wisconsin Public Service and Alliant Energy—will jointly form a nuclear operating company. The anticipated advantages include consolidation of employees' expertise and talents; an improved ability to share best practices; and a means to control costs of commonly used services.
"While we're not necessarily advocating a consolidation of the industry, we must prepare collectively for competition. Specifically, we must work together to revise any ground rules that would stifle our ability to compete."
On the regulatory front, Poindexter noted that in June the industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will launch a pilot program at nine nuclear power plants to test a new oversight process that relies more heavily on objective, risk-informed performance indicators.
"We have an opportunity—along with the NRC—to develop a regulatory process that ensures safety yet does not hinder competition," Poindexter said. He cautioned that, while the industry's improved safety performance has given the NRC confidence to reform its oversight process, "If our performance or safety record slips, so too will the NRC's confidence."
Notwithstanding nuclear energy's status as the nation's largest emission-free source of electricity, Poindexter said that, until a few years ago, nuclear energy's emission-free nature was seen as a fringe benefit.
"Today, with increased emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and air pollution, policymakers have awakened to the fact of what we call the 'hidden value' of nuclear energy. Future regulations
should recognize the value of electricity sources that avoid emissions, as well as the value of curbing emissions from other types of plants."
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.