The Next Nuclear Renaissance is Already Underway


Photo via Seeker401

Ever since the disaster at Three Mile Island, the US has cooled on nuclear power. With cheap alternatives like coal always on hand, and that dangerous, fallout-prone perception entrenched in the American imagination--and the NIMBY concerns that came with it--nuclear power fell to the wayside. The last approved nuclear plant was built over ten years ago, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission hadn't received an application for a new license in a long, long time. And then. Spurred on by the ever-growing interest in clean energy, nuclear power has come back into view over the last couple years. Scientists are again looking at ways of making nuclear safer and more efficient, power companies are investing in the technology again, and applications are streaming in for new plants.

Welcome to the new Nuclear Renaissance. This passage from a report in Chemical & Engineering News sums it up nicely:

For nearly 30 years, the inbox for new license applications at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) collected nothing but dust. These days, the inbox has no room for dust.

"In the past two years, we have received applications to build and operate 28 new nuclear power plants in the U.S.," NRC spokesman Scott Burnell says. The agency has recently received several letters of intent, according to Burnell, indicating that in the next two to three years, utility companies will be seeking permission to build additional nuclear power plants.

Which makes a good deal of sense. Nuclear power is predicted to be an integral part of US's energy future--some studies predict we're going to need at least 45 new nuclear plants by 2030 to meet the demands set forth by the climate bill. Even before the climate bill, utility companies were seeing coal plants come under fire for their carbon emissions, and were surely predicting some sort of penalty on their pollution in the near future--penalties that could be avoided with the cleaner nuclear power plants. And demand for electricity is expected to rise 21% by 2030, meaning more power plants of some kind are going to be necessary.


A large commercial reactor

Thus, around two years ago, nuclear power again became a hot topic in the scientific community and the utility industry. From C&E; News:

The recent upsurge in interest—which is being stimulated by a combination of economic, environmental, regulatory, and other factors—is reinvigorating research and development in the nuclear materials field. Scientists and engineers are ... working to design new materials that withstand the deleterious effects of the punishing environment found there. The broad search for advanced materials for future nuclear power applications has yielded a variety of promising robust candidates, including novel types of steels and alloys as well as nanostructured metallic and ceramic composites.
Which means we've got to get ready for nuclear power to take a much larger place on the energy debate stage--and we may have to seriously start thinking about some long term waste storage solutions.

Nuclear power always divides environmentalists--and the waste issues and potential hazards are serious indeed. But it looks all but certain that there's a brand new nuclear renaissance underway--and with the right innovations and regulation, it could be a welcome force in kicking coal out of the picture.

More on Nuclear Power:
Debunking The French - US Nuclear Power Comparison
Nuclear Power "Economics Are Just Not There": Lester Brown, Earth Institute
Hyperion Power Generation Sells Someone on Portable Nuclear Power

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