Six reactors underway in U.S.
Six reactors are under way in the U.S.
Three major utilities confirm plans are on track for construction
Every time an anti-nuclear group talks about the Japanese crisis at Fukushima, in the next breath they proclaim the death of the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. This claim is wrong as to the facts and wrong-headed with regard to the nation's need for carbon emission free energy. It seems almost like Fukushima has created a case of temporary amnesia about the value of nuclear energy to meet the twin challenges of global warming and energy security. Did we all get hit with a falling coconut?
In recent weeks several nuclear utilities have stepped up to remind their investors and the public about the realities of the nation's energy mix and why nuclear reactors have a place in it. The CEOs of Duke, Southern, and Luminant, who will build six new reactors, have gone on record that the Fukushima crisis is not slowing down their projects.
Duke firm on nuclear plans
On May 5 Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) CEO Jim Rogers told his stockholders the firm remains "firmly committed" to nuclear power despite the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which crippled six reactors in Japan.
"Duke Energy and the entire U.S. industry will learn from the Japanese accident," Rogers said.
"But one thing is certain: nuclear energy remains vital to the world's energy future. It is the only technology available today to generate carbon-free, reliable, base-load electricity 24/7."
Rogers added that nuclear energy is a "key component" of Duke Energy's long-term strategy to reduce its carbon footprint.
The firm currently operates seven nuclear reactors. When it completes its merger with Progress Energy next year, it will be operating 12 of the nation's 104 reactors.
Rogers also reaffirmed his company's commitment to building new reactors. He said the firm is moving ahead with the license application for the twin Westinghouse AP1000 reactors the utility plans to build at the William States Lee III site in Gafney, SC. The plants will be completed by 2022.
Anti-nukes seek stockholder support
Anti-nuclear groups showed up at the stockholder meeting to protest Duke's continued commitment to nuclear energy. According to the Bloomberg wire service, about 50 activists from Greenpeace in Charlotte, NC, said they are opposed to nuclear energy. A spokesman for the group told the wire service Fukushima proves that nuclear projects are too risky to build new plants.
Using metaphors like "silver bullet" and "stake through the heart," their claims are not about risk. They are intended to push capital away from new reactors and toward renewable energy technologies like solar and wind. In the process, they create new market space for natural gas because its ability to meet base-load demand keeps the transmission and distribution grids open for variable sources that only produce electricity 10-30% of the time.
Southern on track for Vogtle
These protests are not having an impact on the plans of Southern (NYSE:SO), which plans to build two Westinghouse AP1000 reactors at its Vogtle site in Georgia. Southern CEO Thomas Fanning told stockholders April 13 the utility plans to proceed with building the two new reactors despite the crisis involving damaged reactors in Fukushima, Japan.
"We cannot let these events distract us from what we must do here. Nuclear power provides long-term price stability and there are no harmful emissions."
The new reactor project at the Vogtle site in Georgia will see construction of two reactors using new safety features including an emergency cooling system powered by gravity. The inherently safe design would avoid the problems that plagued the Fukushima reactors. Built 40 years ago, they relied on emergency diesel power which was disabled by the tsunami.
Luminant moves ahead as NRG shuts down
In Texas there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that NRG (NYSE:NRG) has shut down work on two new 1,350 MW ABWR reactors from Toshiba that were to be built at the South Texas Project. Financing from Japanese investors has been reallocated to reconstruction in areas damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The good news is that Luminant says the Fukushima tragedy has not derailed plans to build two new 1,700 MW reactors from Mitsubishi at the Comanche Peak site. Luminant CEO David Campbell said April 29 the utility expects a license from the NRC for the project in 2013. Construction of the twin reactors, which would be first of a kind for the PWR design, would be completed in five-to-seven years. The utility says it is seeking a federal loan guarantee for the $20 billion project.
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