Nuclear Groundbreaking

A person responding to my recent skeptical post about the long-awaited nuclear renaissance took issue with my claim that ground has yet to broken for a new reactor in the United States. The counter-claim is that ground has already been broken for new nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina. My reading of the facts is different, but I'm ready to stand corrected if my reading is wrong. The latest news I've seen for the proposed reactors for the Summer site in SC is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted a construction application in August 2008, and that action is still pending. As for the Vogtle site in Georgia, POWER magazine recently reported that while some work has been done at the site involving installation of sensors and the like, final construction approval also is pending for that project.

Perhaps we disagree about what's meant by breaking ground. I take that expression to mean that construction approval is final, a hole is being dug, and contractors are getting ready to pour concrete.

This is not to say that nothing is going on, in the United States or elsewhere in the world. A South Korean consortium has just emerged as the surprise winner in a global competition to build a nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates. An expert panel has advised China's government that Canada's Candu heavy-water reactor may be the best choice to burn alternative nuclear fuels such as thorium; China continues to pursue work on the pebble bed modular reactor concept, though just about everybody else seems to have given up on the PBMR. GE Hitachi and Detroit Edison are teaming up on a project anticipating construction of an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor at the site of the Fermi 2 plant near Detroit.

GE Hitachi and Detroit Edison are teaming up on a project anticipating construction of an Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor at the site of the Fermi 2 plant near Detroit.

All that is interesting enough, not to mention the new small reactor concepts mentioned in my previous post. But scattered projects, however innovative or promising,do not make--to use the worst of all nuclear chiches--a critical mass. Ironically, perhaps the best news for nuclear is the accumulating evidence that it's become almost impossible to build a new coal generating plant in the United States. A month ago, for example, it was announced that Florida is cancelling its last planned new coal plant. Though the natural gas industry is still taking ads reminding the public that gas is an excellent substitute for coal, which it is, one may doubt whether gas and wind alone can fill the gap as coal plants are cancelled or decommissioned because of concerns about pollution and climate change.

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