Here's the audio file (MP3/15.4MB/1:07:22) for this Saturday, October 18, 2008, session: Download C4_Energy
By Deana Hirt
In this session, the political and economic factors affecting the nuclear industry in the near future were considered by freelance writer Jennifer Weeks and Margie Kriz, a staff correspondent for the National Journal. According to them, the Obama and McCain campaigns alike value the nuclear industry. Obama, being from Illinois, feels the pressure from the industry since his state has the most nuclear power plants in the country. McCain has promised 45 new power plants by 2030, a goal that is considered way too ambitious by most people actually within the industry. He has also emphasized the need to "recycle," or reprocess our nuclear waste, citing Japanese and French ingenuity in this area. Obama has mentioned the need to create green jobs. The stance on nuclear power of members of Congress was also discussed.
For the past 30 years, the nuclear industry has waned because Wall Street saw investments as too large, the relative affordability of coal in mind. The current financial crisis, in conjunction with possible prices being put on carbon emissions, sets nuclear power up as an increasingly appealing alternative for business interests. However, the shadowy problems that have plagued this energy source for the past half century persist today — namely, operational safety, means and location for the disposal of wastes, high cost of new plants, and the threat of possible terrorist attacks.
Weeks stressed the importance of weighing nuclear power against other sources of energy in regions that are experiencing growth and need energy. Renewable energy sources offer smaller, more incremental amounts of power in comparison to a nuclear power plant, but require just a fraction of the primary investment and do not require mined resources or high-level waste disposal to operate safely.
Deregulation in the industry makes firms want to maximize profits. Companies must plan for the great unknown with a traditional rate-of-return approach. Building of new reactors and license extensions are increasingly under way, since many of America's first power plants are approaching the end of their 20-year licenses and extensions.
Considering the amount of power produced and low cost of running an existing plant, extensions have been pretty much a no-brainer. An employee of the NRC in the audience verified this fact, and mentioned just a few which are having complications, namely, Beaver Valley and Oyster Creek. He discussed new reactor models being used in other parts of the world and under consideration for construction in the U.S. Also mentioned was the move of U.S. manufacturing jobs to places like Japan. Japanese companies have bought out several U.S. manufacturing companies like GE and Westinghouse already.
On the topic of the global nuclear industry, Kriz remarked that the global nuclear industry is simply as strong as its weakest link. The panelists agreed that openness is crucial in this respect so that countries operating nuclear facilities are under the supervision of the international community and can make use of the best practices.