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NEI: New US nuclear reactor to be ordered within five years

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 15, 2000) What do climate change, the booming US economy and the Internet have in common? They are all excuses which the nuclear industry uses to argue that its current period of stagnation must end and a new wave of expansion must begin.

(534.5203) WISE Amsterdam - "As the digital economy continues to grow the U.S. and the rest of the world will need significant amounts of new baseload generating capacity. Some of this generation will be nuclear." With these words, Joe Colvin, president and chief executive of the U.S. Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), used the boom in telecommunications and the Internet to justify further expansion of nuclear generation.

Speaking at a Uranium Institute symposium on 31 August in London, Colvin said that the NEI and five utility companies are identifying "the conditions necessary" for building a new nuclear unit. Licensing, siting and possible Department Of Energy financial support are being investigated.

Although no particular design is being focused on, Colvin mentioned the potential interest of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in licensing Eskom's Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). PECO Energy, which is merging with Commonwealth Edison to form Exelon, has now been confirmed as one of the partners in the South-African PBMR project alongside BNFL and the South African utility Eskom. Together they will produce a feasibility study for a 110-MW model. The PBMR is a modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactor that has been billed as ideally suited for developing countries. However, NRC officials have also said that it wouldn't be licensable in the US or other industrialised countries because it doesn't have a containment. (See WISE News Communiquearticles 512.5036, "South Africa to build new nuclear reactors", and533.5195, "South African EIA on new reactors: input requested").

Colvin also talked about lifetime extension of existing US nuclear power plants. Five units have already received NRC approval for another 20 years of operation, which would result in a 60-year lifetime. Three units have applications under review and a further 26 units have informed the NRC of their intention to pursue license renewal. Colvin said he expected almost all of these to renew their licenses.

Climate change was another reason that Colvin gave for choosing nuclear. "Increasingly stringent domestic clean air regulations and the potentially deleterious effects of global climate change make it an environmental imperative". However he did admit that nuclear waste is still a problem, for which the NEI is "working with the government to try and find solutions".


  • Reuters, 1 September 2000
  • Nucleonics Week, 7 September 2000

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