The future of nuclear energy brightened dramatically when Baltimore Gas & Electric announced that it would apply for a license extension for its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant — the first 20-year license request in the industry.
BG&E’s action in March was followed in July by Duke Energy Co., which said it was seeking a license extension for its three-unit facility in Oconee, South Carolina. Another six utilities are expected to follow suit within a few years.
The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade association in Washington, DC., hailed the trend toward license renewals as a reaffirmation of the United States’ growing dependence on nuclear energy, which began with the 1973 oil embargo. The possibility of a continued or even growing role for nuclear energy is significant, because the emission-free uranium used in the production process produces none of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
At the time of the embargo, 17 percent of the electricity produced in the United States came from oil-fired plants. Today, oil is responsible for only 2 percent, while nuclear power provides 20 percent. Other sources of electricity are coal (51 percent); natural gas (15 percent); hydroelectric dams (9 percent); and renewable sources (3 percent).
Although a deregulated energy market will mean closure for some power plants, including nuclear facilities, fossil-fired plants will represent the majority of those shut down because they probably will not be able to generate sufficient revenue to offset the costs of complying with the EPA’s emission- reduction requirements. Most of the surviving nuclear plants are expected to stay competitive with other forms of energy. Nuclear production costs run 1.91 cents per kilowatt hour compared with 1.83 cents for coal and 3.38 cents for natural gas plants.
Efficiency and safer operation also are expected to continue on an upward path, the NEI said.
According to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report issued in June, there was “a detectable, real trend” toward safer operations, while the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations reported that safety-system performance at nuclear power plants reached record high levels for the third consecutive year.