By Ann de Rouffignac
HOUSTON, May 17, 2001 As expected, the Bush Administration’s energy policy confronts the electricity crisis by emphasizing new power supply from nuclear and coal-fired power plants.
The policy noted that electricity demand is slated to grow sharply over the next 20 years requiring the construction of 60 to 90 new power plants a year.
“If we fail to implement a comprehensive energy plan that recognizes the need to increase capacity, we can expect shortage problems to grow,” the policy stated.
The policy resurrects nuclear power from near hibernation and advocates development of a whole new generation of nuclear plants to be built on existing sites. The plan also recommended the Department of Energy invest in “clean coal” technology to the tune of $2 billion over 10 years.
As expected, environmentalists reacted harshly to the plan saying it was little more than a return to failed policies of decades ago.
“They were not thinking of the future,” said John Stanton, vice-president National Environmental Trust in Washington DC. “Under the guise of an energy policy, this was little more than an attempt to resurrect failed energy policy schemes of the past.”
The administration touts nuclear energy as being more reliable, with lower costs making it competitive with other sources of electricity.
Nuclear industry pleased
The Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group representing utilities with nuclear power plants, was clearly pleased with the proposal.
“The White House recognized that nuclear energy plays an essential role in helping our nation achieve its economic and environmental goals,” according to an NEI release.
Public Citizen in its response to the nuclear energy part of the policy cited a 1998 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report that the cost of nuclear power in the US including capital costs was $2,079/kw-hr, compared to $1,200/kw-hr for coal, and $500/kw-hr for gas.
“This policy is a relapse into nuclear technology instead of energy efficiency,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen in Washington, DC.
The proposal suggested increasing output from existing nuclear plants would wring an additional 12,000 Mw of power by using new technologies and methods to increase rated power levels. No specifics were outlined. The plan advised relicensing of the existing nuclear plants for another 20 years of service. It noted utilities are now considering building new nuclear power plants; a trend to be encouraged.
A task force was formed recently by several utilities to look into what it would take to build a new nuclear plant in the US. Exelon is already looking into the “pebble-bed, gas-cooled reactor ” technology.
The energy proposal recognized burial of high level nuclear waste remains a problem to the nuclear industry. Once studies of the current burial site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, are completed if the administration proceeds with the site, DOE will file a license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“There are huge problems with generating more nuclear waste,” said Stanton. “Just transporting the waste through local communities to the repository will create difficulties every step of the way.”
Concerning coal-fired power plants, the plan said these plants have lower capital costs and fewer emissions than in the past, making them attractive choice for new generation. But uncertainty over rules governing air permits have discouraged new coal plants.