2019 - A Wish List in Nuclear Energy
Welcome to 2019! I hope everyone who took a break enjoyed it. For those who didn't, why didn't you? Initially, I had thoughts of trying to separate from social media and news to a significant extent during the holidays but, after conversations with Linda Zec (our wonderful ANS staff liaison for the Social Media Team, among many other things) decided that it was impractical to do so for a variety of reasons. So, as the holiday furor ebbed and flowed and I continued, still connected, to read news and year-end summations, I found myself wishing that there wouldn't be so much frustrating news in 2019. That's why I decided to open my eighth calendar year writing for the ANS Nuclear Cafe with a wish list, or "listicle" in the inside jargon, if you prefer. Here, in ascending order of importance (or, I suppose, increasing order of unlikelihood) are my five wishes for this new year in nuclear energy. (All on one screen; no annoying "next" buttons. You're welcome.)
#5: ZEC. Zero Emission Credits seem right now to be the hot ticket in keeping operating plants going, and we see what looks like a trend in the use of these in at least two states right now. I'd like to see this sort of policy become standard nationwide. This isn't to take away state's rights, instead, it's the notion that ALL the states would begin to understand that there must be reliable, dispatchable power and that keeping existing nuclear running wherever possible is essential. So, I'd like to see a majority of states devise, debate, consider and adopt ZEC each of their own design with the purpose (either primary or inclusive in nature) of preserving these nuclear plants this year.
#4: K-K 6 and 7. TEPCO in Japan desperately needs to restart the two ABWR units at its western Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site in order to attempt to get off the public dole, much less return to profit. While the struggling company has made some progress to that end, it continues to bog with issues both at Fukushima and in the arena of public opinion. This year, I'd like to see TEPCO form and launch a concrete plan to upgrade these units as required by the new regulations and set a firm-as-possible restart date for these units to actually pull rods within the next two years.
#3: Anyone, anywhere? I'd like to see, in 2019, at least one major U.S. utility announce that it is still considering, which is to say "keeping the option open," to construct a gigawatt-class commercial nuclear power plant. The collapse of the V. C. Summer expansion and resultant flailing coupled with the overruns at Vogtle have caused many to write off anything that isn't SMR or Gen-IV. I think (as my readers know all too well) that this is a mistake. My first hope would be DTE and Fermi Unit 3, but frankly I'm not picky. Even a couple Japanese utilities are moving to complete yet-unfinished plants and have at least discussed launching construction of plants announced but not built. It's worth some hope, at least. (It's a pretty thin hope when all you want is one announcement of 'still considering,' but that's the nuclear energy environment we're actually in now, not the one we would wish for.)
#2: Second SMR. It's wonderful that NuScale is dedicated now to build a prototype plant at NRTS - whoops, INL - to demonstrate its truly innovative concept for small nuclear reactor AND POWER PLANT construction. (Emphasis included because this is an extremely important point.) What I'd like to see this year is a second firm commitment from a commercial user, not connected to Federal support with the possible exception of loan guarantees, to launch the EIS and begin the licensing process for a second NuScale SMR power plant- in the United States.
#1: South Korea comes around. The continued drive by Moon Jae-In to shut down South Korea's nuclear plants and kill future construction of any more has not only pushed national electricity generator-and-supplier KEPCO into the red but also seriously damaged the nation's ability to export nuclear plants. For decades, South Korea sought to become what Japan was - namely, a world renowned producer and exporter of quality products. In that model, the selection of vast amounts of inexpensively generated nuclear power was key, exactly as was the case with Japan. The knee-jerk, unwarranted overreaction to the Fukushima accident led to the election of Moon Jae-In in part on a pro-renewables, anti-nuclear platform. (Aside: Note that while many nuclear proponents here in the U.S. exhort the community not to bash renewables but instead to try to make nuclear and renewables get along, Moon Jae-In was elected in part on exactly the opposite premise: Renewables should come and nuclear should go. Think about that.) What's happened now of course is that South Korea's overall commitment to nuclear energy is seriously in question enough that export of its gigawatt-scale commercial nuclear plants is increasingly unlikely. This terrible reversal of fortune for the Korean nuclear enterprise isn't isolated; the government's policies are damaging many areas of Korean business and society. As my primary wish I'd like to see Moon come around and admit that this anti-nuclear policy is a clear mistake and reverse it. It couldn't be more clear that the public in Korea wants the nuclear plants and low-energy price. Heck, there are even communities where nuclear plants were to be built which are now in an uproar because they were cancelled. How often has THAT happened, historically? Moon Jae-In and his party need to reverse course on the nuclear energy policy for the good of the nation's industry, economy, and people.
Well, there they are, the five things I would like to see happen, which I probably will not hold my breath for but will continue to watch. If you have any wishes for 2019, or a constructive comment, please leave that for me in the comments below. Next week, I'll be returning to my usual article format with more technical-historical content.