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Sent: Sunday, July 11, 2004 9:23 PM
Subject: [MbrExchange] EnLG 2004june ASME Position Statement on New Nuclear Power Plants.
For your info, Gene, this is the ASME Position Statement on New Nuclear Power Plants.
My Energy Comm. Task Force completed our work on this on Jan. 31, 2004 -
it was modified and improved before being approved and signed by ASME Vice Presidents
HAVE A GOOD ONE! CONRAD LADD. <email@example.com>;
Thankyou Connie, I continue to appreciate your talents and energy..... Gene
Expanding Nuclear Power in the United StatesExecutive Summary
A Position Statement of the ASME Nuclear Engineering Division and the Energy Committee of the ASME Council on Engineering
Current State of the Technology
Nuclear power has proven to be a safe, reliable, and reasonably priced source of electricity. In 2002, the 103 U.S. nuclear power plants produced a record 780 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, an 11-billion increase over the previous year. The plants operated 92 percent of the time, a reliability record unmatched by any other fuel source in the country. Nuclear plants are base-load units (i.e. units that provide power continuously, day and night), with off-peak power costs between 1 and 2 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). Applications to extend the operating licenses of specific nuclear units for 20 years beyond the initial 40-year operating licenses are currently being processed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). To date, 23 units have received license renewals and 32 more are expected to have their licenses renewed shortly. Virtually all U.S. nuclear plants are expected to eventually apply for license renewal.
The Role of Nuclear Power in the Nation's Energy Mix
In 2002, 98 percent of the U.S. electric system power generation came from: coal-fired (50 percent), nuclear (20 percent), oil and natural gas-fired (21 percent), and hydroelectric (7 percent). Additional large industrial electricity was generated for use on-site. Base loaded electricity (24-7) was produced from these four energy resources (plus some geothermal electricity). Off-peak electric generation from these sources costs: hydroelectric (0-1 cents/kwh), nuclear (1-2 cents/kwh), coal-fired (1-2 cents/kwh), oil and natural gas-fired (variable, but higher).
In the next decade, new base-load generating capacity will be needed to support U.S. economic growth and to replace older, obsolete plants. All new hydroelectric, nuclear, and coal-fired power plants must overcome formidable and often unpredictable regulatory and permitting obstacles. These risks make normal capital investment and financing more expensive. Engineering and construction lead-times for these large power units are typically 5-6 years after permits are obtained. Large natural gas-fired, combined cycle units carry the financial risk of volatile natural gas prices.
Promises and Challenges
Pre-certified nuclear plant designs constructed on existing pre-approved nuclear plant sites with local public acceptance are a promising economic option for new base-load electric power generation. In the future, low cost off-peak nuclear power may economically support hydrogen fuels production, water desalination, and other energy-intensive industrial processes that require cheap energy. Competitive nuclear power plant suppliers are available in the U.S., and abroad. The uranium fuel supply for new nuclear power plants is available from experienced vendors. The nuclear waste disposal issue, while far from resolved, is moving toward resolution, and nuclear power plants do not emit pollutants to the atmosphere.
Regulatory and permitting stability is a major obstacle to be addressed by federal, state and local agencies before new nuclear power plants can be financed. Legal intervention has in the past delayed construction and operation of nuclear plants - with consumers and shareholders forced to absorb the attendant huge costs. Legal intervention can be minimized by pre-approved licenses; federal loan guarantees would reduce the financial risks of these obstacles.
Nuclear power technology has matured after more than 30 years of commercial reactor operating experience and fine-tuning. The original defense in-depth design philosophy provides multiple layers of safety against nuclear accidents to protect the public and plant employees. The injury safety accident rate at U.S. nuclear power plants in 2002 set a record low of 0.22 per 200,000 worker-hours, compared to all U.S. manufacturing industry of 4.0 per 200,000 worker-hours. Even though the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island resulted in no exposure to injurious radioactivity on the part of workers or the public, the lessons learned from that accident have been applied to new reactor designs.
With regard to safety in the transport of nuclear materials, new nuclear fuel has been processed, fabricated, and safely shipped across the U.S. for nearly 50 years. Advanced cask designs for the transport of spent nuclear fuel have proven extremely robust in tests, but have not had occasion for widespread use. That is likely to change when a spent fuel repository begins accepting shipments of spent civilian nuclear fuel - perhaps within the next 10 years.
Spent Fuel Disposal and Re-Processing
Spent reactor fuel is currently stored on-site at power plants until it can be shipped to a centralized site for storage. Spent fuel from U.S. nuclear ships is routinely and safely shipped to storage sites. In other nations that use nuclear power extensively, such as France and Japan, spent fuel is shipped to commercial reprocessing plants.
The extension of Price-Anderson umbrella insurance coverage is essential for new nuclear plant construction. Legislation to reauthorize the law is included in the Energy Policy Act of 2003, currently pending in Congress. There has not been a claim on this secondary insurance since its inception, but it provides a public safeguard.
Expanding Nuclear Power in the United StatesI. Introduction
The 120,000-member ASME is a professional organization focused on technical, educational and research issues of the engineering & technology community. The Energy Committee of ASME's Council on Engineering, comprised of mechanical engineers from industry, government, and academia, represents the breadth of knowledge in energy technologies in the United States. The ASME Nuclear Engineering Division comprises ASME members with expertise in cutting-edge nuclear engineering technologies. This position statement represents the consensus of those two ASME groups.
Members of ASME conduct research, and are instrumental in the development, design, and operation of technologies involving all aspects of energy resource extraction and conversion. As innovators and designers of many of the systems and equipment used in the many processes of power generation and conversion, mechanical engineers are well qualified to provide expertise on the many important issues facing the nation with regard to energy security.
The Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1 (EBR-I) in Arco, Idaho produced the world's first nuclear electricity in December 1951. In the next two decades, nuclear power demonstration plants and test reactors were built and operated in the U.S. and worldwide to bring nuclear technology to commercial acceptance. This nuclear power technology development was supported by the successful conversion of the large U.S. Navy ships to nuclear reactor propulsion.
By the late 1960s, large nuclear power plants were being ordered, constructed, and placed in operation by the U.S. electric utilities at an increasing rate. The early U.S. commercial nuclear power plants were, by 1972, the least expensive sources of electricity. By 1978, more than 200 large nuclear power units were operating, were under construction, or were awaiting construction permits. The new regulatory agencies were overwhelmed by the evolving regulatory and permitting burden. The capital costs of plants under construction were escalating rapidly, largely from changing regulatory requirements. More than 100 large nuclear unit orders were cancelled in the face of regulatory gridlock, construction schedule delays, and escalation of costs that became unpredictable.
While the number of nuclear power plants in the United States has remained relatively constant for the past couple of decades, nuclear power plants continue to be constructed in other countries. In 2001, nuclear power generated 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S., 77 percent in France, 58 percent in Belgium, 44 percent in Sweden, 31 percent each in Germany and Finland, 29 percent in Spain, 23 percent in Britain, and 34 percent in Japan. Nuclear power generated 15 percent of all electricity worldwide.
III. Nuclear Power
is a Vital Source of Electricity Nuclear power is a vital and strategic resource in the U.S. energy mix that currently makes up about 20 percent of the electrical power produced in this country. The safety and environmental record of the nuclear power industry has been excellent. Current generation nuclear reactors have had a positive impact on the environment through the safe production of electricity with essentially no emissions. Future nuclear power plants offer even greater environmental benefits by providing the emission-free electricity necessary to produce hydrogen for transportation.
As the technology has matured, nuclear power has also proven to be both reliable and economically competitive. Nuclear power plants have demonstrated that they can be competitive in a deregulated electric power market. As a result, nuclear power plants that only a few years ago were to be shutdown and decommissioned are now applying to have their licenses renewed for an additional 20 years. This surge in licensing renewals is a direct result of the demonstrated economic competitiveness of nuclear power compared to other energy sources, and the high costs associated with constructing any large base-load power plant in today's market. In fact, the economic benefits derived from nuclear power plants have led several companies to compete aggressively to purchase existing nuclear power plants, and these companies have found the investments to be a worthwhile benefit to their shareholders. Purchasing existing plants helps power producers enjoy the economic benefits of an established plant without having to go through the time-consuming, expensive, and uncertain process of siting, permitting, and building a new plant.
Despite the demonstrated economic and environmental benefits of nuclear power, there are still obstacles to be overcome to ensure the future of nuclear power. These obstacles include public concern about safety and the disposal of nuclear waste, regulatory uncertainty, and concerns about the predictability of construction costs and schedules.
Public concerns about the safety of nuclear reactors have diminished in recent years because of the outstanding safety record of U.S. nuclear power plants. A 2003 survey by Bisconti Research for the Nuclear Energy Institute found 64 percent in favor of "the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States. That is a significant improvement over a 1983 poll that showed 49 percent in favor of nuclear energy; 46 percent opposed.
However, to continue to gain public trust and acceptance of nuclear power, it is imperative that the continued strong safety performance of existing plants be maintained, and not compromised by pressures to increase plant performance and profitability in today's competitive power markets. In the longer term, the development of advanced reactor designs with inherent or passive safety features, and simplified but robust safety features that can be understood by those without a technical background is likely to further increase public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants.
IV. Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel
Spent nuclear fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants is currently stored on plant property pending construction of a central repository. The proposed spent fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada is the government's first choice for disposal of spent nuclear fuel. In early 2002, the Governor of Nevada exercised his prerogative under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to veto the proposed repository site at Yucca Mountain. In May of that year, the Energy Committee of ASME's Council on Engineering sent a letter urging members of the United States Senate to override the Governor's veto, as was their prerogative under the legislation. The Senate did vote to override the Governor's veto, and the Department of Energy is preparing an application to the NRC to construct the facility. In its letter, the Energy Committee took note of the concerns of the Nevada Governor, but refuted them, stating,
V. Nuclear Plant Licensing and Costs
Although the uncertainties in the nuclear regulatory environment have often been cited as a major obstacle to the development of new nuclear power plants, significant progress has been made in reducing these uncertainties. Procedures embodied in the code of federal regulations have established the framework for completing certain regulatory processes (e.g., early site permit, design certification, and combined construction permit and operating license) before companies commit large amounts of capital for construction. Industry has taken advantage of these improvements in the regulatory process, and to date have obtained design certifications for three standard plant designs and have submitted three early site permit applications to the NRC. The willingness of industry to commit resources for design certifications and early site permits shows increased confidence in the improved regulatory environment. However, although these improvements have substantially reduced uncertainties, the regulatory processes remain cumbersome and need to be streamlined to reduce processing times without compromising the integrity of the regulatory process or the safety of future licensed reactors.
Finally, to ensure the viability of nuclear power, future nuclear power plants must be cost competitive with other forms of electric power generation and a continued low-cost supply of fuel and enrichment services must be ensured. In addition, investors must have assurances of predictable construction costs and schedules when new nuclear plants are built in the future. Improvements in the regulatory process, standard reactor designs, innovations in fabrication and construction techniques, and improvements in construction management practices are steps toward reducing construction costs and schedule uncertainties.
V. Plant Siting
The siting of the next generation of nuclear power plants is likely to be influenced by the general public perception of the need for nuclear power and concerns about safety, environmental impacts, and the economics of nuclear power compared to alternative energy sources. In addition, local issues relating to the need for emergency planning, land use and the impacts on the immediate environment, and the effects on the local economy will influence site-specific decisions.
In the 1960s, many communities competed to get a nuclear power plant built nearby - but a NIMBY attitude began to prevail in the late 1970s, and continues to some extent today. An October 2003 survey by Bisconti Research, however, showed that 60 percent believe the nuclear industry has a "high" safety rating, while 21 percent believed it has a "low" safety rating. The same survey found 57 percent believed it would "be acceptable to add a nuclear power plant next tot the nearest nuclear power plant that is already operating." Fully 70 percent in that survey also believed that the United States should keep the option of building additional nuclear plants.
The near-term construction of the next generation of nuclear power plants will most likely be at existing nuclear plant sites. Many U.S. nuclear plant sites were originally designed for more nuclear units than were actually constructed. Since these sites have been well characterized, have existing operating units and the associated infrastructure in place, and are near major transmission facilities, they are logical locations for the near-term construction of future nuclear plants.
The use of existing sites for the construction of the next generation of nuclear plants is already being pursued by industry. To date, three companies have submitted early site permit (ESP) requests to the NRC. These ESPs allow the companies to hold a site for up to 20 years before applying to actually build a new reactor on it. Although the ESP does not authorize construction of a specific plant, it does provide a process for resolving site safety, environmental, and emergency preparedness issues before committing major resources for construction of the plant. It has also been estimated that having an ESP in hand could reduce construction lead-time for a new plant by about three years. Although the three companies have not committed to the construction of a specific plant, the applications will provide a test of the NRC process for resolving site-related regulatory issues. The final decision to actually construct the next nuclear plant, however, will ultimately be determined by future market conditions and public support.
It is difficult to project how future siting decisions, beyond current existing nuclear sites, will be made. However, the current ESP process should provide companies the opportunities to assess a variety of site options without making major financial commitments. The current regulatory process provides the framework for making the technical decisions, but other factors would affect the final decision. For example, proposed federal legislation providing loan guarantees for the construction of nuclear plants combined with state and local support for a particular site would likely have a significant impact on the site selection process. In addition, the ability to obtain financing for construction at a particular site also would influence the final decision. In the longer term, energy parks designed and built in conjunction with a new or upgraded U.S. electric transmission grid could be logical sites for new reactor construction. This concept, however, would require coordinated efforts between the government and industry, with potential financing provided by a consortium of utilities and investors.
VI. Insuring Nuclear Power Plants
There are currently 103 nuclear power units operating in the United States, generating 20 percent of the nation's electricity. It has also been well established, both here and elsewhere, that the effects of a -- admittedly unlikely -- major nuclear accident, the effects on the public and on the plant operator could be widespread.
The specter of a nuclear accident and its attendant consequences, no matter how remote the possibility given today's safety measures and technology, has, from the start, made it difficult for nuclear plant operators to obtain an appropriate level of insurance. That was remedied in 1957, when Congress passed an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act. The amendment, known as the Price-Anderson Act, has been extended three times since its inception, twice for 10-year periods, and once (in 1988) for 15 years. Reauthorization of the Act is currently pending in Congress.
The proposed reauthorization extends indemnification, until August 2, 2017, from liability for all U.S. nuclear power plants licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and for all nuclear contractors working for the Department of Energy. As with current law, commercial reactor liability is limited to the maximum available liability insurance ($200 million) from a private insurer, referred to as primary financial protection. In the event of an accident that exceeds $200 million in damages, all 103 nuclear reactor operators in America must together pay up to $94 million per reactor to cover costs. That amount is to be adjusted for inflation every five years after the date of enactment. Therefore, the potential total insurance pool financed by private interests is $9.9 billion ($200 million primary financial protection + $94 million from each of the 103 reactor operators).
The Price-Anderson Act is beneficial for nuclear plant operators, because they are insured to a reasonable level, thereby ensuring continued operation, and for the government, because nuclear power plants are insured, without the government having to pick up the tab.
The Energy Committee of the ASME's Council on Engineering and ASME's Nuclear Engineering Division strongly support increased use of nuclear power in the United States as a way to ensure a continued diversity of power supplies, ease increasing reliance on natural gas to fuel power plants, and decrease overall emissions.
Nuclear power has been proven safe, efficient, and reliable. The federal government, in cooperation with the private sector, should do what is necessary to preserve and perhaps even increase its share of the power mix in the United States by providing tax incentives for construction of new plants, providing funds for research to improve existing plants and create the next generation of plant designs, and encouraging the education and training of the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.
This position statement represents the considered views of ASME's Nuclear Engineering Division and of the Energy Committee of ASME's Council on Engineering. It does not necessarily represent the views of ASME as a whole.