Outlook for Nuclear Energy in the USA

The U.S. nuclear fleet in 2010 recorded its highest year for production, 807 bkWh, up from electricity generation of 798.7 bkWh in 2009.

There are 12 combined license applications are under active review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for up to 20 new reactors. Project development efforts are underway including over $1 billion in pre-construction activity at both the Vogtle 3 and 4 and Summer 2 and 3 sites.

According to government forecasts, the United States will need about 220,000 megawatts of new generating capacity by 2035.

Consensus estimates suggest that the U.S. electric power industry must invest at least $1.5-2.0 trillion by 2030 in new generating capacity, new transmission and distribution infrastructure, and environmental controls.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 recognized this financing challenge and provided limited investment stimulus for construction of new baseload power plants. In the case of nuclear power, that stimulus includes:

– a production tax credit of $18 per megawatt-hour for 6,000 megawatts of new nuclear capacity for the first 8 years of operation.
– a form of insurance (called standby support) under which the federal government will cover debt service for the first few plants if commercial operation is delayed. This coverage is capped at $500 million for the first two reactors, and $250 million for the next four reactors. The delays covered include NRC failure to meet schedules and litigation.
– federal loan guarantees for up to 80 percent of total project cost

A new nuclear plant is estimated to be a $6-8 billion project (including interest during construction).

The process of licensing and building the first few new nuclear power facilities is expected to take 9-10 years: approximately two years to prepare an application to the NRC for a COL, approximately three and a half years for NRC review and approval of the COL, and 4-5 years for construction. After the first plants are built and operating, it should be possible to reduce licensing and construction time to approximately six years.

The industry continues to uprate the capacity of its nuclear units. An uprate increases the flow of steam from the nuclear reactor to the turbine-generator so the plant can produce more electricity. Uprates provide an opportunity for significant capital improvements and increase a plant’s capacity by 2-20 percent, depending on plant design.

Since 2000, the NRC has authorized 92 power uprates, yielding a cumulative capacity increase of 3,875 megawatts. The regulatory reviews typically require one year or more of technical evaluation. The NRC is currently reviewing 10 applications for uprates, totaling approximately 1,356 megawatts of capacity. Over the next five years, the NRC anticipates that companies will apply for power uprates that could represent an additional 1,854 megawatts of new capacity

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