Appeal for new nuclear plants

The U.S. power industry needs to build 20 to 30 new nuclear plants by 2030 to meet the nation's demand for electricity, according to Exelon Corp. chief executive officer John Rowe. But Rowe said the industry would need continuing help - from federal and state lawmakers, from regulators, and from the public - to meet that goal.

In remarks prepared for delivery today to the annual Nuclear Energy Assembly in Miami, Rowe warned that Exelon and its counterparts faced major hurdles as they moved toward building a new generation of nuclear plants. (To read his speech, go to http://go.philly.com/rowe24.)

Since 2004, Exelon has been part of NuStart Energy Development, a consortium of 10 power companies and two reactor manufacturers that is one of several groups inching toward building new power plants.

Marilyn Kray, NuStart's president, said the consortium was preparing license applications for two demonstration reactors, based on designs by General Electric Co. and Westinghouse.

Kray said both designs would be inherently safer and more economical than the nation's current reactors. For instance, the reactors would still use water for cooling the nuclear fuel, but would rely on gravity-based feeding systems, not pumps, to provide emergency cooling.

Rowe said so-called passive safety systems should help ease concerns about the safety of nuclear power, which has won new support among some environmentalists because its generation does not contribute to global warming.

But he said other challenges still loom, including:

Financing. Rowe said each new nuclear plant would probably cost about $5 billion, too large an investment for companies the size of Exelon or its competitors without a new wave of consolidation and without support from government.

Nuclear waste. Rowe said the long-promised Yucca Mountain facility "will not happen soon – certainly not by the 2017 date currently advertised by the Department of Energy." The alternative, he said, is "long-term interim storage" under the auspices of the federal government.

Infrastructure. He said the "intellectual and manufacturing infrastructure that once supported this industry has atrophied over the past 20 years," because of a lack of new projects.

Despite the challenges, Rowe said, the time was right for nuclear power to make a comeback, with fossil-fuel prices and demand climbing and the country "increasingly dependent upon foreign regimes - often hostile regimes - to heat and light our homes."

 


Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles

at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.