Rising Fuel Costs Sparking Nuclear Reaction

By Staff June 1, 2006

Nuclear power, a technology long thought dead in this country, is gaining renewed interest from electric utilities and regulators as a way to address both rising fuel costs and plant emissions concerns. Utilities have announced plans to build 17 new nuclear reactors, and government officials are promoting such plants as one way to counter concerns regarding emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants. However, waste concerns continue to plague developers.

Fifteen of the 17 proposed new plants would be sited in the southeastern United States, including three in South Carolina. The Bush administration is now offering tax incentives for the first batch of new plants to be built and come online, in addition to loan guarantees that could help companies cover expenses related to permitting problems.

The new plants also could help boost employment in their local communities. Duke Power, the utility behind the three proposed South Carolina plants, has said construction employment at each facility could reach 1,000 at times, with ongoing operations requiring up to 800 employees at each unit.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is now calling nuclear power “the cleanest alternative to coal- and oil-fired electricity power plants.” However, his department is still struggling to get over the biggest hurdle nuclear power faces—how to handle the radioactive waste reactors produce.

Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear-waste storage site in Nevada, has been scheduled to begin accepting deliveries from plants across the country in 2010, but the facility has yet to gain licensing approval. The DOE submitted legislation to Congress in April, which would speed licensing, raise current capacity limits and remove a large portion of the facility’s budget from congressional oversight. However, both Nevada senators — including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — have vowed the bill will not pass.