For years the U.S. nuclear industry has done an outstanding job keeping plant availability high while simultaneously continuing to improve safety and economics. With capacity factors averaging more than 90 percent, you would think that no one would shut down an operational nuclear power plant. But that is what we have seen in a number of cases. Fortunately, this now seems to be changing. As I write this column, Diablo Canyon’s new life extension application has just been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for review, and the Department of Energy’s program to support continued operation of nuclear power plants is providing hope that current plants will continue to have the opportunity to demonstrate their operational excellence.
How did we get here? When I ask this question—both of myself and the industry as a whole—I envision this as two sides of the same coin. Through the efforts of many we have improved our financial and economic viability, but challenges remain because the full value proposition of nuclear energy has not been realized.