Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Glowing with Optimism. (Science, Technology & Environment)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Glowing with Optimism. (Science, Technology & Environment)

Article excerpt

"The Changing Climate for Nuclear Power in the United States" by Richard Meserve, in Bulletin (Winter 2002), American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 136 Irving St., Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

"The demise of the nuclear power industry was widely expected only a few years ago writes Meserve, chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But things may be changing.

While the number of nuclear plants has dropped from 111 to 103 since 1990, the amount of electricity these plants produce has increased by nearly 40 percent. Although that 750 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity represents just 20 percent of U.S. consumption (countries such as France and Lithuania, by comparison, get over 70 percent of their electricity from nuclear plants), Meserve says the U.S. nuclear industry "is by far the largest commercial nuclear power program in the world." About one-quarter of the world's nuclear plants are in the United States.

Meserve thinks the United States may be ready to move away from its reliance on coal and natural gas for electricity in favor of nuclear power. One compelling factor is cost: The average production cost of electricity from nuclear plants was about 1.71 cents per kWh in 1999. That is less than the cost of electricity from either coal or natural gas, both finite fuel sources that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Price deregulation of electricity, along with the fact that the high capital costs of many older plants have now been largely repaid, has helped make nuclear competitive. …

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