The Current "Nuclear Renaissance" in the United States, Its Underlying Reasons, and Its Potential Pitfalls

By Frye, Roland M., Jr. | Energy Law Journal, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Current "Nuclear Renaissance" in the United States, Its Underlying Reasons, and Its Potential Pitfalls


Frye, Roland M., Jr., Energy Law Journal


Synopsis:

The nuclear renaissance is indeed a reality within the United States today. This is apparent from the number of nuclear plant construction applications and new uranium mining applications filed with or expected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as the major merger-and-acquisitions activity within the nuclear industry. This renaissance stems from such factors as concern over global warming, nuclear energy's advantages over competitor fuels, a significant increase in public and governmental support, major scientific and technological developments, and the financial community's increasing interest in nuclear energy. But, a number of factors could still undermine the success of nuclear energy - such as workforce and component manufacturing constraints, the recent "Wall Street meltdown," a catastrophe at a nuclear power facility anywhere in the world, a terrorist attack using nuclear material, blocked transportation of radioactive material, regulatory and adjudicatory delays, self-inflicted wounds by the industry, and concerns about proliferation and spent fuel management. The industry's success in the coming years will turn largely on money, attention to detail, and an ability to earn and retain the trust of all its stakeholders.

SUMMARY

The catch phrase "nuclear renaissance" appears in most articles and speeches these days about nuclear energy. Indeed, nuclear energy is increasingly in the news and is being portrayed there in an increasingly positive light. Unfortunately, few writers or speakers have looked objectively, critically, and in depth at the questions: (i) whetiier the nuclear renaissance is a reality; (ii) if so, why; and (iii) what could derail it. I seek to do so here.

In the first section of this article, I conclude that the nuclear renaissance is indeed a reality. I base this conclusion on factors such as the wave of nuclear plant construction applications filed with or expected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the resurgence of interest in uranium mining, the major mergerand-acquisitions activity within the nuclear industry, and the increasing interest in nuclear energy elsewhere in the world.

In the second section, I examine the reasons for this renaissance. Specifically, I discuss concern over global warming and the environment, nuclear energy's environmental and economic advantages over competitor fuels, the significant increase in public support, significant scientific and technological developments that enhance its attractiveness, nuclear energy's strong governmental support at the federal, state and local levels, and the financial community's increasing interest in and support of nuclear energy.

And in the final section, I examine nine potential developments mat could derail the nuclear renaissance - non-scientific problems with managing spent fuel, workforce constraints, component manufacturing constraints, a catastrophe at a nuclear power facility anywhere in the world, a terrorist attack using nuclear material, blocked transportation of radioactive material, regulatory and adjudicatory delays, increased difficulties in obtaining construction financing, and self-inflicted wounds by the industry.

With money, dedication to detail, and an unwavering effort to earn and retain the trust of all the industry's stakeholders, the nuclear industry can take full advantage of the factors contributing to the current renaissance, and minimize the chances of its derailment. But, if that trust is lost, the renaissance will likely lose momentum and the aborning.

INTRODUCTION

The "nuclear renaissance is here," proclaims the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC or Commission) Chairman Dale E. Klein.1 At a House of Representatives hearing in September 2007, Representative David Hobson (R-Ohio) observes that "[njuclear energy seems to be poised on the verge of a significant rebirth in this country and around the world."2 Even more effusive, Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb. …

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