Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Will nation bring back nuclear power?

.: Corvallis Gazette-Times :. News

Company prepares Finland design for use under U.S. specs

By Stan Choe
Knight Ridder Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ray Ganthner sells new nuclear power plants.

His industry has had a rough couple of decades, he acknowledges. But one recent development is making his job easier. His company, Maryland-based Framatome ANP, designed the $3 billion-plus nuclear plant going up in Finland, the first built in Western Europe in more than a decade.

"I point out we're the only company building one,'' said Ganthner, a senior vice president for the firm.

Ganthner and his team of engineers are hoping the European plant helps to spur a renaissance of nuclear-plant construction across the United States.

The team for Framatome is working to translate the Finland design into U.S. specifications, to get it approved by U.S. regulators. They're trying to convince U.S. utilities to become the first to order a new reactor since the '70s.

The question is: Are Americans ready for it?

Ganthner and the nuclear industry say yes.

People will recognize, they say, that a new generation of U.S. nuclear plants will mean enough available electricity to avoid a forecast deficit in the next decade. The sky will be less congested with greenhouse gases, they say. And Americans are more willing than ever to accept new nuclear construction, according to a survey by the nuclear industry's trade group.

But those fighting against nuclear plants say a resurgence would instead mean a more dangerous world: Nuclear waste will be looking for a home, terrorists will have more tempting targets to attack, and temperatures in the rivers flowing past plants will rise enough to kill wildlife, they argue.

The country has 103 operational nuclear reactors. The 1979 partial meltdown of Three Mile Island and the 1986 explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine, effectively halted interest in new nuclear plants.

But interest among U.S. utilities has recently heated up, though there are no hard plans for a new reactor.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Power has said it is considering a new nuclear plant but won't pick a site or design until the end of the year. Even then, Duke may decide not to build it. Other utilities are looking at sites in Illinois, Mississippi and Virginia, while a consortium of U.S. nuclear-power companies is looking at potential sites.

For nuclear plants to maintain their piece of the overall energy pie — generating 20 percent of America's total electricity — the industry would have to build 30 to 40 new plants over the next 30 years, said Ganthner, whose firm is a joint subsidiary of France-based AREVA and Siemens of Germany.

President Bush has been a champion for the nuclear industry, becoming the first president to visit a nuclear plant in 26 years when he recently stopped by a Maryland plant.

"There is a growing consensus that more nuclear power will lead to a cleaner, safer nation,'' Bush said at the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, according to Bloomberg News. "It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again.''

The battle is most pitched on Capitol Hill, where Congress is hashing out an energy bill that could help a nascent nuclear resurgence explode or fade.

The Senate's version, passed in June, is packed with incentives to get the nuclear industry rolling, such as a subsidy for new reactors and loan guarantees for their construction. The House's version doesn't include those packages.

A 2003 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology advocates combining the ideas of nuclear plants' proponents and opponents.

The country, it said, needs more nuclear energy, but it also needs more renewables, such as wind, and more conservation.

Jim Kerr, a member of the N.C. Utilities Commission, says the country at least needs to study all possibilities.

"We have to develop a game plan,'' Kerr said. "Nuclear, reasonably, is a part of that discussion, but so are a lot of other things.''



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