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Written by Daniel   
Friday, 14 September 2007 11:46
Nuclear power looks for comeback in U.S.
By Michael Kanellos
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: September 13, 2007, 5:43 PM PDT
 

A nuclear power plant hasn't been built in the U.S. in decades, but that appears to be changing, says the CEO of the nuclear industry's advocacy group.

Seventeen different organizations have expressed interest in building 31 new nuclear power plants in the U.S., Frank Bowman, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and a retired admiral from the U.S. Navy, said in an interview with CNET News.com this week. Applications for four to seven nuclear plants will likely get filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this year, and eight more will probably follow next year, he said.

The planning and permit process for the first plants will take about three years, and construction should take four years or less, he said. Thus, the first of the new plants could start generating power by 2015 or 2016, he said.

As head of the NEI, Bowman is the spokesman for the nuclear industry, which went into a downturn after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979. But in the past few years, global warming, rising gas prices and legislative ideas such as carbon taxation have forced governments to explore alternatives to coal, oil and gas. And mining tragedies, such as the recent accident in Utah, and news about coal-engendered pollution in China have further boosted interest in alternatives.

Although strong opposition to nuclear power remains, politically the subject has become less polarizing, Bowman said. Overall, the general reaction to the industry now is, "yes, but," he said. That is, people can see the benefits of it, but have strong reservations when it comes to safety, disposal, proliferation and other issues.

An MIT poll earlier this year reflects his comments. Thirty-five percent of those polled said they wanted to see nuclear technology increase, up from 28 percent in 2002. Nonetheless, 40 percent opposed storing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain. Only 28 percent thought nuclear waste could be stored safely for long periods of time.

To this end, the nuclear industry has worked to improve its own practices and technology over the preceding decades, he said. In the past, nuclear plant builders were often vertically integrated. Each made its own components and systems. Now, many have agreed to build according to accepted standards, which should lower prices and speed up the time to build plants.

Some of the standardization ideas come from the Navy, which has used modular manufacturing techniques for years to speed up the construction of nuclear subs. (By the way, there are 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the U.S., and 103 nuclear reactors in the Navy.)... More       Comment in the Forums
 

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