editorial (2005-39)

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Back to the Present on Energy Needs

New nuclear-electric power plants are the best available option

Back to the Present on Energy Needs

Bellefonte, the idled TVA nuclear plant site at Scottsboro, Ala., has been picked by NuStart Energy Development, a national consortium of nuclear power companies, as one of two plants it will seek to complete and license, the first such applications to be actively sought in 30 years.

The process will take several years to complete, but it can’t begin a minute too soon. TVA’s failed nuclear program, doused by debt and uncertainty over future power demands, has left it too reliant on coal-fired boilers that spew pollution faster than the utility can get a handle on them.

NuStart is made up of TVA, Duke Energy of Charlotte, Southern Co. and GE Energy of Atlanta, Westinghouse Electric Co. of Pittsburgh, Florida Power & Light, Constellation Energy of Baltimore, Exelon Generation of Philadelphia, Progress Energy of Raleigh, and Energy Nuclear of Jackson, Miss.

As TVA points out, it has been open to partnering with other nuclear operating companies to reduce the financial and regulatory risk it would bear as an individual asset owner developing its own nuclear power plant.

The Bellefonte site is ideal, as NuStart concluded, because of existing infrastructure, including an electric switchyard, river water intakes, cooling towers and other improvements that were undertaken before TVA scrapped its plans in the 1980s. That advantage, plus the community support the plant enjoyed in Scottsboro and the state of Alabama, and its geographic location within transmission reach of most of the major markets in the Eastern United States, spoke to NuStart, which is also applying for construction and licensing of a second plant, Grand Gulf, owned by an Entergy subsidiary and situated near Gibson, Miss. Several other “finalist” sites were identified as suitable by the consortium, and it should be hoped they are applied for and brought on line with the least possible delay.

Nuclear production of electric power is simply the best technology we now have to supply this country’s massive energy needs. It does have risks, including security factors and those associated with the handling of byproducts and wastes that have very lengthy half-lives, emitting dangerous ionizing radiation for centuries.

A lot has been learned, however, over the past few decades, in the study of potential storage options and the recycling of certain radiological materials. A great deal has been learned about plant safety and engineering techniques in the wake of the disaster at Chernobyl, in the Ukraine, and the near-disaster at Three-Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, in the 1970s.

The facts are that very few people outside the Chernobyl envelopment area have ever been harmed as a result of nuclear power production, as opposed to the hundreds of thousands of people whose lungs, as well as their general environment, are harmed daily as a result of fossil-fuel power plant operation.

Non-renewable energy sources such as coal are being depleted inexorably all the while, and their conversion to clean, non-polluting resources seems a long way off, just as the anticipated capture of renewables, such as wind and sunlight, in the volumes needed to meet national electricity demand, seem as far in the future as the application ofhydrogen fusion technology on a grand scale, which is theoretically possible without producing ionizing radiation. Conservation is more than just admirable, it’s essential, but it doesn’t produce enough excess to satisfy the expectations of growing, advanced populations, here or anywhere.

Nuclear energy is with us now. Its production is relatively cheap, even if construction of safe facilities is expensive. Ironically, that production capacity’s costs may not be accelerating as fast as the costs associated with fossil fuels, including the unpredictable but significant costs of relying on foreign supplies.

Those who saw the rise and decline of nuclear-electric plant construction in this country have lived to regret that its clean-energy production alternative wasn’t continually and doggedly pursued by TVA and every other large utility in this country.

That TVA, despite its dreadful experience with overbuilding, is in a position to recoup some of its earlier losses and has the leadership to begin work toward that recovery and to start thinking about the necessity of expanding its nuclear production capability is fortunate, indeed.

The freshly constituted, enlarged board of directors, yet to be named in its entirety, should be made conscious of the potential for cleaning up large swaths of filthy air expelled by TVA’s coal-fired pollution generators by returning attention to nuclear power.

It’s an energy option that we can no longer afford to keep down. We never could really afford to.Americans should all breathe easier, literally, as more nuclear plants come on line in this country.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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