The development of new nuclear power plants over the next decade will help the nation meet its growing demand for electricity with a reliable, carbon-free source of energy, a nuclear industry executive told the U.S. House of Representatives' Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
"It is extraordinarily challenging to imagine credible scenarios by which electricity production can double in the coming decades while significantly reducing the emission of greenhouse gases from electricity generation. To do so will take the successful implementation of a wide range of solutions including nuclear power," said Alex Flint, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president of governmental affairs.
Nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide more than 70 percent of all U.S. electricity that comes from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases or controlled pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. Nuclear power plants also account for 54 percent of voluntary greenhouse gas reductions reported by project type in the electric power sector, under the sector's Power Partners agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy.
"Our nuclear plants are not only environmentally sound by avoiding the emission of 681 million metric tons of CO2 each year, they are also extraordinarily safe. In 2006, our lost-time accident rate was 0.12 accidents per 200,000 worker hours. That is significantly safer than the 3.5 accidents per 200,000 worker hours in the manufacturing sector," Flint said.
In the United States, 17 companies or groups of companies are preparing license applications for as many as 31 new reactors. Five complete or partial applications for combined construction and operating licenses were filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2007. Another 11 to 15 applications are expected in 2008. As a result, the industry expects four to eight new U.S. nuclear plants in operation in 2016 or so, depending on factors like commodity costs, forward prices in electricity markets and environmental compliance costs for fossil-fueled power plants.
"Nuclear energy is the only option available today that can provide large-scale electricity 24/7 at a competitive cost without emitting greenhouse gases. If those first new plants are working to schedule, within budget estimates and without licensing difficulties, a second wave could be well under construction as the first wave reaches commercial operation. This new generation of nuclear plants could be the foundation of the non-carbon emitting energy supply that our nation sorely needs," Flint said.
In 2007, the 104 reactors in the U.S. nuclear fleet operated at nearly 92 percent of capacity and produced a record-high 807 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That is nearly 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, even though nuclear power plants constitute only 10 percent of installed generating capacity.