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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Nov 3, 2020

Shifting demand, increasing costs, carbon-free goals and pandemic restrictions have left electricity markets spinning like a roulette wheel.  The International Energy Agency forecasts an increase in hydrogen and new momentum behind nuclear power. Harnessing the power of those two energy sources are still topics of great debate.  However, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) just approved a new small modular reactor (SMR) design by NuScale and the current administration gave a $1.4 billion taxpayer subsidy to the nuclear power industry. NuScale wasted little time on their goal of deploying up to 1,682 small (60-megawatt) reactors across the U.S.  In Utah, the Utah Association of Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) will build a 720 megawatt SMR facility designed by the nuclear technology company.  The project will receive funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Costly construction and nuclear waste, make nuclear power highly controversial.  Failed projects in other states have also left utilities and investors wary of nuclear power.  In 2017, utilities in South Carolina abandoned plans to build two new nuclear reactors in the state after delays and cost overruns plagued the multibillion-dollar project.

After construction of costly nuclear power plants, utiliites want to get their money's worth.  Current market prices range from $120 to $189 per megawatt hour, according to some estimates. But the UAMPS project promises to deliver power to Los Alamos at just $55 per megawatt hour.  Philo Shelton, Los Alamos Utilities Manager, said the group anticipates DOE to offer a funding award that’ll cover 80 percent of the costs moving forward.  NuScale as the technology provider would pay another 5 percent and the members would pay the remaining 15 percent.  Steve Tobin, an engineer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a member of the county’s Board of Public Utilities, says nuclear has advantages over renewables but he did express concerns that a public utility is being asked to pitch in funds to develop a new design for nuclear power. The time it takes to construct a nuclear power plant is another concern.  Karl Cates, research editor at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis says, “This is key—the timeline and build out problems, because it takes so long, years and years, to build them,” he said. “By the time those years have gone by, electricity markets will have changed so substantially, and the climate risk argument will continue to rise in prominence, and investors are distancing themselves from conventional electricity generation models.”  The question becomes, is this the right investment now and will it continue to be the right choice for the utility in upcoming years.  “Essentially we own an asset that can run for 60 years and we have power available to our community,” Shelton said.  “So, as the project develops, we’ll get more refinements and cost and, and hopefully less risk if we can get cost from suppliers locked in."

“One of the problems with nuclear is that a certain fraction of the country is very against it,” Tobin said. Internationally, nuclear faces similar challenges.  Belarus’ first nuclear power plant began operating Tuesday and immediately Lithuania banned electricity imports from Belarus.  The reaction of Lithuanian Litgrid power service is undoubtedly connected to the severe damage from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Lithuania closed its sole Soviet-built nuclear power plant in 2009 and has forbidden the purchase of energy from Belarus.  Globally, strong opinions regarding nuclear power continue but the British government may be close to approving the $26 billion nuclear power station, Sizewell C.  However, the UK’s nuclear power plans suffered a blow when Japanese firms Hitachi and Toshiba pulled out of two other power projects in Anglesey and Cumbria.  Undeterred, French energy giant, EDF, continues construction of nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset.  The new plants at Hinkley and Sizewell alone are expected to supply 14 percent of the UK's electricity needs.

Subsidies aside, should utilities be investing in nuclear power or renewable energy?  The chairman of the Together Against Sizewell C group, Pete Wilkinson, argued that "renewables out-compete nuclear on every front: Cost, waste, jobs, CO2 and time for deployment.”  What are your thoughts? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 4, 2020

“One of the problems with nuclear is that a certain fraction of the country is very against it...”

That's one way to look at it, another would be: "One of the problems with a certain fraction of the country is its opposition to the only viable path forward on climate change."

"...renewables out-compete nuclear on every front: Cost, waste, jobs, CO2 and time for deployment."

So they keep telling us, despite the fact that every one of those claims is wrong. Pete Wilkinson's opposition to nuclear is founded upon irrational terror. My thought would be, "Let's go for the choice that isn't founded upon irrational terror." Seems obvious.

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