U.S. Poised to Play Important Role in Global Nuclear Energy Renaissance

Frank L. Bowman
Frank L. “Skip” Bowman is president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization.

Within the United States, growing demand for baseload electricity, bipartisan interest in a secure and diverse supply of electricity, and deepening concern about climate change have led to one indisputable conclusion: The nation must begin building new nuclear power plants as part of its future energy mix.

By the end of 2007, the industry will have spent $2 billion to set the stage for building advanced-design reactors within the next two decades. Companies are developing applications for up to 32 new plant combined construction and operating licenses, which they intend to file with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the next two years.

More than 30 reactors are now under construction worldwide, and more than two dozen countries are exploring new nuclear projects—clear signs that a global nuclear renaissance is also under way.

U.S. electricity demand will increase by 45 percent over the next 25 years, government experts say. Worldwide, electricity demand will nearly double in the same period. New generating facilities, including nuclear power plants, will address increased demand.

The Inextricable Link

America and many other nations are acutely aware that energy security and national security are inextricably linked. A diverse mix of energy sources enables the United States to balance the cost of electricity production, availability and environmental impacts to our best advantage. As a result, a broad portfolio of energy sources will free us from being overly dependent on foreign sources of energy, often from unstable parts of the world.

Coal and nuclear energy are the foundation of the U.S. electricity supply system, representing 50 percent and 20 percent of U.S. electricity supply, respectively. The remainder comes from natural gas-fired power plants, hydroelectric dams and small amounts of renewable energy. We need to maintain this diverse portfolio of energy sources to ensure energy security in the future.

America produces about 30 percent of its electricity from sources that are considered non-emitting. Nuclear-generated electricity represents nearly three-quarters of that emission-free electricity. The carbon dioxide emissions avoided by nuclear power in the United States are more than twice the emissions prevented by all other carbon-free sources of electricity combined and are roughly equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of all U.S. automobiles.

Voluntary Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions

Nuclear power plants account for the majority of voluntary greenhouse gas emission reductions in the electric power sector, according to a January report from Power Partners, a partnership between the electric power industry and the U.S. Department of Energy. The electric power sector reported more carbon dioxide emission reductions than any other sector—63 percent of 445 million metric tons—in 2004, the latest year for which data are available. The electric sector’s progress resulted primarily from increased electricity production at nuclear power plants.

This report confirms that nuclear energy plays a vital role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but cannot do so alone. It will take the combined effort of the entire electric power sector to strike the balance between increased electricity demand and meeting national and global environmental goals.

America’s Electricity Workhorse

By operating 103 reactors more efficiently and reliably, the industry has added the equivalent of 26 large power plants to the electrical grid during the past 15 years. The industry has compiled an outstanding safety record in doing so, all while greatly reducing overall emissions from electricity production.

Nuclear energy has proven economic efficiencies that position it as an essential source of reliable, affordable electricity for consumers and business. It has lower average production costs—at 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour—than coal, natural gas or oil.

The U.S. Congress recognized the need for a diverse energy portfolio in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The bill provides limited, broad-based stimulus for investment in new electric power infrastructure, including new nuclear power plants. Coupled with growing electricity demand, the comprehensive energy legislation has stimulated companies to pursue license applications for new reactor designs.

Balanced Approach

Increasing investment by the public and private sectors in exploring the construction of new nuclear plants has generated renewed interest within the financial community. Fitch, in a 2006 report, said it is not a matter of debate whether there will be new nuclear plants in the future. Rather, the discussion has shifted to predictions of how many, where and when.

Prudent energy planning demands a balanced approach, one in which all fuels—including nuclear energy, coal, natural gas, hydro, and renewables such as geothermal, solar and wind power—play an appropriate role. The G8 energy ministers endorsed this concept last March and said that nuclear energy is crucial to long-term, environmentally sustainable, diversification of energy supply.

Used Nuclear Fuel Management Policy

“He who fails to plan, plans to fail,” a proverb warns. That planning also extends to the industry’s stewardship of the byproducts of nuclear power production.

The global expansion of nuclear energy is redefining used nuclear fuel management policy. Industry and policymakers are considering whether the United States should recycle used nuclear fuel rods rather than simply using them once and disposing of the vast amount of energy that remains in the rods.

Within the past 18 to 24 months in this country, we have seen renewed interest in “closing” the nuclear fuel cycle—in developing the advanced technologies necessary to reprocess used nuclear fuel, extract the materials that can produce additional energy, recycle them into new reactors, and reduce the volume, heat and radiotoxicity of the byproduct requiring deep geologic disposal.

The industry’s goal is to define and implement a program that integrates clearly defined short-, medium- and long-term goals. The long-term goal—the development of an underground repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada—has not changed.

Short Term Goals

The industry’s short-term goals include a disciplined technology development program for used fuel treatment and starting the process of identifying volunteer sites for interim storage of used fuel. Logically, interim storage will be co-located with the fuel processing facilities necessary to close the fuel cycle, because the used fuel is the feedstock for those reprocessing plants.

The U.S. Department of Energy must start the process of licensing the Yucca Mountain facility, but maintain flexibility to adjust the facility design until it knows the final form of the materials that will be placed in the mountain.

As we consider the next two decades, it is clear that America and other nations must take decisive action now to secure their energy future or face dire consequences. With new-reactor construction on the horizon, nuclear energy is poised to continue to play a major role in the U.S. energy mix well into the future.

We have the technology and the means to achieve energy security, address climate change and meet growing electricity demand through a comprehensive and rational energy strategy that includes a prominent role for nuclear energy.

Representing The Nuclear Industry

Frank L. “Skip” Bowman is president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. NEI represents more than 270 domestic and international corporations and organizations involved in nuclear energy and related technologies.

Prior to joining NEI, Bowman served for more than 38 years in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of admiral. He served as director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and was the third successor to Adm. Hyman G. Rickover in that command. Bowman also was deputy administrator-Naval Reactors in the National Nuclear Security Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy. In these dual positions, he was responsible for the operations of more than 100 reactors aboard the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines, four training sites, and two Department of Energy laboratories in Pittsburgh and Schenectady, N.Y.

Bowman, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., is a 1966 graduate of Duke University. He completed a dual master’s program in nuclear engineering and naval architecture/marine engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1973 and was elected to the Society of Sigma Xi.

Bowman has been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Duke University. He serves on the MIT Nuclear Engineering Visiting Committee, the Engineering Board of Visitors at Duke University and the Nuclear Engineering Department Advisory Committee at the University of Tennessee. Bowman also serves on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, the BP U.S. Refineries Independent Safety Review Panel, and the boards of directors for the National Energy Foundation, U.S. Energy Association, American Council for Capital Formation and the Armed Services YMCA of the USA.

In 2006, Bowman was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of his commitment in support of the Royal Navy submarines program.

He also is an ex officio member of the boards of directors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, Electric Power Research Institute and Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited.

He also is a member of the American Nuclear Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Management Committee of the Alliance for Energy and Economic Growth, Women in Nuclear and the World Nuclear Association’s Council of Advisors.


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