August 2001 IBEW Journal
Achievements Worth Noting: Strong Safety Record and Efficiency Gains
A strong safety record is providing the foundation for the nuclear energy industrys resurgence, Richard Meserve, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chairman, told reporters at an April press conference. An important contributor to the changing attitude toward nuclear is that the performance of nuclear plants continues to improve, he said. The NRC is the federal oversight agency charged by Congress with ensuring adequate protection of public health and safety in the use of nuclear material in the United States.
The nuclear industrys safety record and efficiency gains have been widely acknowledged, and nuclear power plants have become more economically competitive as other sources of energy have increased in price. While just a few years ago many plants were looking to phase out when their initial licenses expired, now about 40 percent of U.S. nuclear plants have announced plans to seek renewed licenses, according to the NRC, and twice that number may apply. Theres even talk that some company might order up a new nuclear generating plant, something that hasnt happened in more than 20 years, according to a May 12 Washington Post editorial entitled Nuclear Comeback.
At the IBEW Utility Conference in March, guest speaker Angelina Howard, executive vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, described a cost-effective growth in nuclear-powered electrical output from 577 billion kilowatt-hours in 1990 to 755 billion kilowatt-hours in 2000. Nuclear plants satisfied approximately 30 percent of growth in U.S. electricity demand during the 1990s, said Howard. U.S. nuclear plants have increased their overall output by 25 percent over the past 10 years by reducing accident rates and shutdowns, The Washington Post reported April 23.
Howard also noted the importance of license renewal for existing plants to unlock additional value, and spoke of the need for a large amount of new generating capacity over the next 20 years to satisfy expected demand. Certain regions of the United States are especially dependent on nuclear energy. U.S. nuclear stations provide more that 40 percent of electricity generated in 10 states in the Northeast, South and Midwest.
The record over the past two decades has definitely earned for nuclear its new prominence and possible expansion, said James Dushaw, director of the IBEW Utility Department. That record is far too impressive and the nuclear potential too promising for this source to continue to be neglected.