Sunday, September 25, 2005

A new venture toward more nuclear power

Lynchburg News & Advance
September 23, 2005

AREVA’s announcement last week of a joint venture with a Baltimore-based electricity supplier comes as good news on two fronts - the future of nuclear energy for the nation and the addition of jobs down the road for the Lynchburg area.
The joint venture with Constellation Energy would put AREVA on the path to building new nuclear plants in the United States. Known as UniStar Nuclear, the new company will offer a “one-stop shop” for utilities interested in building new nuclear plants, according to Mike Wallace, executive vice president of Constellation Energy.
Reflecting the France-based AREVA’s international presence in the nuclear energy field, the nuclear reactors would be designed in the United States based on AREVA’s European pressurized water reactor. One plant is under construction in Finland and another will be built in France. UniStar Nuclear hopes to sell at least four such plants to U.S. utilities.
Tom Christopher, chief executive officer of AREVA, said those sales could come as early as 2008 “and we will be ready.” Construction on the new plants could begin as early as 2010 with operation beginning by 2015.
The new energy policy bill approved in August by Congress gave a fresh start to nuclear power in the United States with a series of loans and tax credits to utilities that turn to nuclear reactors to generate their power.
Part of AREVA’s work now is upgrading and maintaining some of the 104 nuclear power plants operating in this country.
Some 200 engineers at the firm are now working on converting the European reactor design to American specifications. They will then seek approval of the design from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nuclear industry at the federal level.
In terms of new jobs here, the firm plans to hire another 200 engineers next year to work here and in Charlotte, N.C., along with another 100 in 2007. Christopher said earlier this year that a contract to build a new plant would mean a $2 billion to $3 billion investment in AREVA, including $400 million to $500 million worth of work subcontracted to local manufacturers.
Building a new nuclear plant hinges on the NRC’s approval of the plant’s design and finding a utility that wants to build it.
As Matt Busse of The News & Advance reported last week, AREVA and the other firms associated with UniStar Nuclear are not alone in the nuclear power industry. They have competition from Atlanta-based GE Energy and Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric, both of which have designed their own “next generation” nuclear plants.
Fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal), the dominant energy today, are being rapidly exhausted, and are the cause of wide scale environmental pollution, while nuclear and renewable energies are much cleaner. Experts say nuclear fuels have no global effect, produce relatively small amounts of waste and, since they don’t produce emissions similar to oil and coal, don’t affect the planet’s climate. Further, proponents of nuclear energy say, if well managed, it is sustainable for the long term.
No new nuclear power plant has been ordered in the United States since 1973 and interest soured after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. That reactor was designed in Lynchburg by Babcock and Wilcox, which eventually gave way to AREVA.
Disposal of waste from nuclear power plants is one factor that has kept a damper on increasing the number of such plants across the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy, the Bush administration and Congress are pushing a plan to dispose of the nuclear waste in tunnels under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
The people of Nevada have opposed the plan. In the meantime, nuclear waste is currently being stored in temporary facilities scattered across 39 states.
Nuclear energy for electricity, nonetheless, has to be the way of the future for more Americans. With oil prices hovering at $70 a barrel and rising, America may not have any choice.


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