The Obama Administration has been throwing money at so-called green technologies. Between $80 and $100 billion were included in the 2009 stimulus bill for a wide variety of green initiatives ranging from improving home insulation and high speed trains to research into batteries and improved solar panels. Over $2 billion is going for two solar energy plants that will focus the sun’s energy to heat water, thereby creating steam to run power turbines. These are first-of-their-kind plants that have yet to be proven technologically or economically effective.
Yet, with all this attention and money going to green technologies, one area that the administration has done little to support is nuclear power. There have been loan guarantees to utility companies to build more nuclear power plants. But there has been no money provided to companies that produce the components for the plants allowing them to increase capacity, invest in production equipment or purchase long-lead items. Nor has the administration made much of an effort to support the U.S. nuclear power plant builders in their efforts to get overseas business. As a result, the U.S. is losing jobs and export earnings to foreign companies.
What is particularly disturbing about the administration’s behavior is the fact that the nuclear power plant construction industry is about ready to unveil a new generation of smaller, safer and more economical nuclear power plants. Recently, Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear Energy, Inc. (B&W NE) and Bechtel Power Corp. announced an alliance to design, license, and deploy a commercially viable Generation III++ small modular nuclear power plant. Properly supported by the U.S. government, the alliance could be the first to develop and build the next generation of nuclear power plants making the U.S. once again a leader in the field of nuclear energy.
The Generation III++ design has numerous advantages over the current reactors. It will provide improved fuel technology, greater thermal efficiency, better safety systems and a standardized design which will reduce maintenance, training and capital costs. Improvements in reactor technology will result in a longer operational life (60 years of operation, extendable to 120+ years of operation prior to complete overhaul). Because the new design will be much more compact than its predecessors it will take up less space. This will allow utilities both more options regarding where to site new power plants as well as the opportunity to increase the number of reactors at a given site as the demand for energy increases.
The Obama Administration needs to expand its approach to investments in green technologies. The Bechtel and B&W NE alliance to develop the Generation III++ reactor is the perfect opportunity for a new initiative to promote nuclear power at home and U.S. nuclear reactor sales abroad.
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