U.S. Companies Plan New Generation of Nuclear Power Plants

Published May 1, 2006

Buoyed by surging public support and advances in technology, U.S. companies are submitting plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants in the United States.

10 New Plants Considered

According to the February 6 Chicago Tribune, U.S. utility companies are discussing plans to build at least 10 new nuclear reactors in the near future, up from only three under consideration just a year ago.

While the long permitting and construction process ensures no new plants will become operational until sometime in the next decade, the recent surge in interest in nuclear power provides a potential long-term solution to greenhouse gas emissions, rising fossil fuel costs, and dependence on foreign energy sources.

Economics Driving Resurgence

“A properly run nuclear plant generates electricity more cheaply than almost any other source,” observed the Tribune. As a result, the Tribune reported, “interest in nuclear energy is rising rapidly as utilities consider building new reactors for the first time in decades.”

“A key to the resurgent interest in nuclear power is cost,” agreed an Associated Press story published on April 2 by the Baltimore Sun. “While each new reactor costs several hundred million dollars, a University of Chicago study concluded that a new fleet of more efficient reactors can be expected to produce power as cheaply as coal and natural gas.”

Rob Bradley, president of the Institute for Energy Research, cautioned energy prices would have to remain high for nuclear power to remain economical in the long run.

“I would still characterize nuclear as a backstop technology to fossil-fuel power generation for the great majority of applications,” Bradley said. “Short of long-term, fixed-priced consumer contracts, it is risky to commit to a technology that has such high up-front capital costs.”

No Greenhouse Gases

“This said, a new commitment to nuclear power is turning the environmental movement against itself,” Bradley added. “Many environmentalists are realizing that climate alarmism comes with a price.”

“Nuclear power is a way to avoid global warming,” said Bernard Cohen, professor emeritus in physics at the University of Pittsburgh. “Even many environmental activists who used to oppose nuclear power now support it because nuclear power entails no greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Nuclear power, if it proves competitive economically, certainly is more than competitive environmentally with renewable power sources,” said Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. “It does not kill tens of thousands of birds each year in mid-flight like wind power, and it does not require developing vast amounts of pristine land to produce significant power like solar power. And unlike wind and solar power, you can produce as much nuclear power as you want, day or night, wind or no wind, sunshine or clouds.”

“Given the challenge of climate change, the world needs to be open to every low-carbon initiative including nuclear power,” Steve Cochran, communications director for the often-confrontational environmental activist group Environmental Defense, told Business Week for a September 5, 2005 story.

Public Support Is Strong

The newfound support from environmental activist groups mirrors surging support for nuclear power among the American public.

A 2005 survey by Bisconti Research Inc. showed 70 percent of Americans now favor nuclear power, up from 46 percent in 1995.

Another survey, conducted in August 2005 by Rasmussen Reports, reported 55 percent of Americans support building new nuclear power plants and only 24 percent oppose the idea.

The better than two-to-one margin is true among people of both major political parties. According to Rasmussen Reports, Republicans support building new nuclear power plants by a 63 to 18 margin, while Democrats support building new nuclear power plants by a 52 to 26 margin.

“The small segment of the American population that are anti-nuclear activists are out of touch with the vast majority of the American people,” said Burnett. “They may carry on with loud voices, but they sure won’t win any elections.”

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney in Syracuse, New York.

For more information …

The Bisconti Research survey of Americans’ opinions toward nuclear power is available online at http://www.nei.org/documents/Public_Opinion_Report_5-05.pdf.

The August 2005 Rasmussen Reports survey of opinions toward nuclear power is available online at http://www.rasmussenreports.com/2005/Energy_Nuclear%20Power_August%2016.htm.

The Future of Nuclear Power, an interdisciplinary study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in July 2003, is available online at http://web.mit.edu/nuclearpower/.