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Nuclear Power Could Free U.S. Oil Grip

Wednesday, 24 Oct 2007 09:35 AM

By E. Ralph Hostetter

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Nuclear energy, at long last, appears to be making a comeback following the passage of the Energy Act of 2005.

The majority of Americans now favor nuclear power. The latest Gallup Poll taken in March 2007 shows 53 percent of Americans now approve of pursuing atomic energy. This is consistent with other polls taken as far back as March 1994.

In the past two years, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has been refining provisions of the Act which provides loan guarantees of up to 80 percent of the cost of the nuclear facility, $125 million tax credits for eight years, insurance that would cover regulatory delays, limits on liability for catastrophic accidents, plus shared application costs.

The NRC is now open for business and is accepting applications. It expects as many as 32 new nuclear reactor applications over the next two years.

New Jersey-based NRG Energy on Sept. 24, was the first to file a full application for a new nuclear power plant since the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Middletown, Pa., in 1979.

Constellation Energy Group has filed a partial license application to add a nuclear unit at its existing site at Calvert Cliffs, Md.

Envirocrats have raised their ugly heads as expected. Having lost the safey issue with respect to atomic energy plants over the last 50 years, they now complain that new atomic energy plants will be excessively costly. They complain electrical energy will be prohibitively expensive, costing more than natural gas.

Nuclear Power Trumps Them All

The Nuclear Energy Institute reported for 2002, the nation's 103 nuclear reactors were the lowest cost producers of any source of expandable, baseload electricity. This was the fourth straight year that nuclear energy was the low cost leader. Production costs — which encompass fuel, plus operations, and maintenance at a plant — averaged 1.71 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) at nuclear power plants in 31 states.

Nuclear power production costs were lower than the coal-fired plants' 1.85 cents/kwh; natural gas plants' 4.06 cents/kwh; and oil-fired plants' 4.41 cents/kwh.

The Nuclear Energy Institute report states that the fuel cost for nuclear plants in 2002 was 0.45 cents/kwh compared to 1.36 cents/kwh for coal, and natural gas was 3.44 cents/kwh. By comparison, natural gas costs over seven times as much as nuclear fuel.

In addition, the nuclear fuel is not subject to wide variations in cost. From January 1999 to July 2000, just 18 months, the cost of natural gas increased by 88 percent. Over a nine-year period, 1990 to 1999, nuclear fuel costs decreased by 46 percent.

The construction cost of the fossil-fuel power generating plants as compared to nuclear is also an important factor.

According to Resources for the Future, an independent research organization, these are the relative costs for the various types of power plants: Based on 2006 construction costs in Japan and Korea and estimates from vendors who would likely build plants in the United States, a new 1,000-megawatt (mw) nuclear plant would cost about $2 billion and take five years to build. By contrast, a new 1,000-mw pulverized coal plant would cost $1.2 billion and take three to four years to build.

A definite attraction to nuclear power, once built and paid for, is the extremely low cost of operation.

The Road to China

There is one major glitch in the advancing of nuclear energy development in the United States today.

The principal builder of the present atomic energy plants in the United States was Westinghouse Corporation.

Through a series of transactions beginning with the acquisition of Westinghouse Corporation by Columbia Broadcasting Corporation (CBS), ostensibly to acquire Westinghouse Broadcasting, the Westinghouse nuclear division was later sold by CBS to British Nuclear Fuels. British Nuclear Fuels got contracts for five Chinese nuclear plants and then sold Westinghouse Nuclear to Japan, which is building an additional five nuclear plants for China. China itself is using Westinghouse technology to build four new nuclear plants.

Steve Mufson, Washington Post staff writer, in an extensive article on nuclear power, reports “about nine necessary nuclear power plant components, including giant pressure vessels and steam generators, can be made only by a Japan Steel Works facility (formerly Westinghouse Nuclear). Some of these parts have a six-year lead time.”

Regardless of the obstacles that may seem to impede this new breakthrough to nuclear power, the United States must use every means possible to take advantage of this window of opportunity which can prove a major step toward energy independence.

The rest of the world, particularly China and Japan, is turning to nuclear. Europe is far advanced, with France producing 80 percent of its electrical needs; Belgium, 70 percent and Little Lithuania, 90 percent.

If America is to compete in the global market, it must pursue this nuclear opportunity.

The rewards are enormous.

Fully implemented, a nuclear program will provide the necessary power to move into electrically operated motor vehicles, reducing and, perhaps, eliminating America's dependence on foreign oil imports. And last, it’s time to discard the yoke placed around America’s neck by the naysayers, far-left radicals, the greens and associated Marxists. They have had their say for over 40 years. They now cry that the cost is too high.

How high is the cost of losing a substantial part of the U.S. economy brought on by a cut-off of a major portion of America’s imported oil?

We dare not overlook this nuclear opportunity.

* * *

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by e-mail sent to eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.

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