What happened to the U.S. nuclear renaissance?

 

Three factors combined to sink the prospects in the U.S. of a combined $127 billion worth of new nuclear reactors projects which flooded the NRC with license applications in the period 2006-2008.

The first is the record low price of natural gas. The second is the Fukushima crisis of March 2011 which cast a long shadow of doubt across the global industry. The third is the “bet the company” risks of investing in a $5-10 billion project in a merchant market where the reactor does not get credit for carbon reduction nor for keeping the grid stable for all those “reneweable” and highly variable wind and solar energy projects. With few exceptions, no “prudent investors” will proceed against these headwinds.

However, Southern Company proceeded to invest in two new Westinghouse AP1000s at the Vogtle site in Georgia with the help of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Energy. SCANA chose to move forward with two Ap1000s at the V C Summer site in South Carolina, but without loan guarantees. TVA completed Watts Bar II loading fuel in the reactor in December 2015.

Hat tip to Joe Deely, a reader at the Energy Collective, for helping set up the table below.

So where are they now?

Proposed New Reactors  

Design

 

Applicant

 

NRC Status

 

Market Status & Outlook

Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant U.S. EPR PPL Bell Bend, LLC Under Review Progress continues on license application with completion of Environmental Review last April. EPR not approved by NRC due to suspension of design review at Areva’s request. Utility may have to select another vendor.
Bellefonte Nuclear Station, Units 3 & 4 AP1000 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Suspended TVA is very unlikely to ever complete either of the mothballed Bellefonte units. The remaining equipment is obsolete. TVA started work on an Early Site Permit application for an SMR at Clinch River. Any prospects for AP1000s are in the indefinite future.
Callaway Plant, Unit 2 U.S. EPR AmerenUE Withdrawn A merchant regulatory environment makes any new reactors a non-starter from a business perspective given the long term outlook for low natural gas prices. Areva EPR not approved for use by NRC in the US. Ameren could not convince the Missouri legislature to provide CWIP for the project.
Calvert Cliffs, Unit 3 U.S. EPR Calvert Cliffs 3 Nuclear Project, LLC and UniStar Nuclear Operating Services, LLC Withdrawn  A merchant regulatory environment makes any new reactors a non-starter from a business perspective given the long term outlook for low natural gas prices. Areva EPR not approved for use by NRC in the US.
Comanche Peak, Units 3 & 4 US-APWR Luminant Generation Company, LLC (Luminant) Suspended Could be revived in the future if project can be separated from parent firm debt structure. Mitsubishi would have to complete the design review of its 1700 MW PWR with the NRC. Natural gas prices in the nation’s leading oil & gas state would have to increase significantly long-term. Electricity demand would also be a key market success factor.
Fermi, Unit 3 ESBWR Detroit Edison Company Issued One of the bright spots and likely to move forward in next decade. GE is working closely with DTE on this project as it is the first-of-a-kind for the ESBWR in the US.
Grand Gulf, Unit 3 ESBWR Entergy Operations, Inc. (EOI) Withdrawn Entergy invested in uprates to an existing reactor.
Levy County, Units 1 & 2 AP1000 Duke Energy Florida (DEF) Under Review Unlikely to proceed. Project costs, including upgrades to regional electrical grid, worked against moving forward.
Nine Mile Point, Unit 3 U.S. EPR Nine Mile Point 3 Nuclear Project, LLC and UniStar Nuclear Operating Services, LLC (UniStar) Withdrawn No market prospects for future work on this project.
North Anna, Unit 3 ESBWR Dominion Virginia Power (Dominion) Under Review One of the bright spots and likely to move forward in next decade.
PSEG Hope Creek & Salem TBD PSEG Active Early Site Permit Application submitted in 2010. V.4 of permit application submitted in June 2015.
River Bend Station, Unit 3 ESBWR Entergy Operations, Inc. (EOI) Suspended Entergy invested in uprates to an existing reactor.
Shearon Harris, Units 2 & 3 AP1000 Progress Energy Carolinas, Inc. (PEC) (now merged with Duke) Suspended Duke has put this project way on the back burner.
South Texas Project, Units 3 & 4 ABWR Nuclear Innovation North America, LLC (NINA) Under Review Toshiba still interested on the project. Investors are needed to pay for future construction work. Cities of San Antonio, Austin pulled out.
Turkey Point, Units 6 & 7 AP1000 Florida Power and Light Company (FPL) Under Review One of the bright spots and likely to move forward by 2030.
Victoria County Station, Units 1 and 2 ESBWR Exelon Nuclear Texas Holdings, LLC (Exelon) Withdrawn Exelon stopped all work by 2010 and opted to complete an Early Site permit application good for 20 years. Water rights remains an issue.
Virgil C. Summer, Units 2 and 3 AP1000 South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G) Issued Completion scheduled prior to 2020
Vogtle, Units 3 and 4 AP1000 Southern Nuclear Operating Company (SNC) Issued Completion scheduled prior to 2020
William States Lee III, Units 1 & 2 AP1000 Duke Energy Under Review Duke has put this project way on the back burner.

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13 Responses to What happened to the U.S. nuclear renaissance?

  1. Pingback: What happened to the U.S. nuclear renaissance? - Neutron Bytes - Pro-Nuclear Power Blogs - Nuclear Street - Nuclear Power Plant News, Jobs, and Careers

  2. Good points above, including the “bet-the-farm” size of investment that the NRC structures almost force on potential plant builders. One other potential deal-breaker for aspiring plant builders may have been the sharp reminder, with the appointment of Greg Jaczko to NRC chair, that there is a high risk of direct government interference in nuclear power, even beyond the market distortions you note. One aspect of Fukushima’s lesson to aspiring plant builders was the sight of Germany’s government arbitrarily deciding to close down nuclear power.

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    • @Joffan

      The risk you’re describing has a name in investment literature. It’s called “sovereign risk.” For many decades, sovereign risk metrics have favored investments in the United States because of a well respected legal system that enforced contracts and adhered to a relatively corruption-free “rule of law.”

      We have the power to demand a return to that system, even as it applies to nuclear energy regulation.

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      • Kirk Gothier says:

        Relative to other sovereign nations we’re there, as reflected in the latest jobs data. What we’re really needing is a return to the ethic and commitment of the Greatest Generation, who fought a World War for all of us and returned home to build the infrastructure and public services, which are essential for truly “free competitive markets.”

        We can do that, if we stop demonizing the public sector and start rebuilding the same strong public/private sector relationship created following WW II. I still “Like Ike” and long for a return to a nation where every child lives in a safe, functional neighborhood, with access to world class infrastructure, community policing, strong military support, essential services, public education, engaging cultural/recreational activities, and equal opportunity to compete, on a truly level playing field… http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/grades/

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      • Jim Hopf says:

        I remember hearing a speech by former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham about nuclear energy and its prospects. The one thing I most remember about the speech is that he made repeated references to “sovereign risk”. He seemed to talk about it more than anything else.

        Very interesting. Seemed like he knew something…. Perhaps the speech was somewhat of a “gaffe” in that this high ranking official let a bit too much of the real story slip out.

        The real truth is that the real reason for govt. loan guarantees was to minimize sovereign risk. That is, if the federal govt. wants to screw with a nuclear project just to score political points, it will suffer, financially, along with the utility.

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  3. Pedro says:

    How are construction advances in Summer and Vogtle affecting the perspectives in future nuclear plant construction? As far as I know both projects are delayed by now by 18-24 months, and further delays are expected. Although this there aren’t big cost overruns in both projects. So, in summary, are the utilities more or less interested in nuclear power plants after seeing how Summer and Vogtle are doing it? Thanks.

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    • I believe that the potential customers for additional AP1000s are doing exactly what many industry insiders expected they would do. They are acting like people from Missouri and demanding that the vendors show them that they can complete projects.

      Unlike the press and the opposition, many of the decision makers have a foundational understanding of the difficulties associated with FOAK manufacturing and construction projects. They are watching the vendor team solve those problems, shake out component challenges (like the all-important RCP manufacturing process) and apply the learning to much improved progress on the second units on each site.

      There are still a number of questions they want to see answered. Probably the most important of those is the demonstration that the owners can effectively complete the ITACC required before receiving final permission to operate commercially.

      (The often touted “one-step” licensing in 10 CFR 52 is at least a one and a half step process.)

      I’m just hoping that proving the AP1000 can be completed and operate reliably does not take so long in the U.S. that we forget how to build them before the next orders are placed. (“Forget” in this context is as content-rich as “learning” is in the context of “learning curves.”)

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  4. Kirk Gothier says:

    Decades of horrible messaging is what happened, and the nuclear industry needs to start supporting the efforts of the brilliant young nuclear engineers working hard to Go Viral with their message of clean air and water, sustainable communities and prosperity for billions, forever…

    Please support Californians for Green Nuclear Power in their efforts to keep the last nuclear power plant operating on the West Coast, and submit comments to the California Energy Commissions lack of support for the EPA Clean Power Plan “all of the above” energy strategy: http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/15-IEPR-01/TN206418_20151023T095707_Kirk_Gothier_Comments_2015_IEPR_Update_Outline.pdf http://www.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan-opportunities-nuclear-power https://www.facebook.com/GreenNuclearPower/

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  5. One more thought for this thread before I depart. Most sources say that the Renaissance Period lasted from 1300-1500 AD. Some who have delved deeply into the history place the starting date as early as 1225. It took a couple of generations before it had achieved enough momentum to be universally noticeable.

    My point is that extricating a society or an industry from the Dark Ages takes a lot of effort and is subject to periods of gains and losses.

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  6. Alex Cannara says:

    The Renaissance is being done elsewhere. And we’ll pay. dearly.

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  7. gmax137 says:

    I think another factor crippling the renaissance was the release of the climate scientist’s emails. This fiasco fed the climate-change denialist movement. Convincing people that “those in the know” support your idea, while anyone opposing your views are being hoodwinked, is a great way to get people to jump onto your bandwagon. Nobody want to be the rube.

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  8. Jim Hopf says:

    I’ve always had a list of four reasons why the Renaissance died, and Fukushima is actually the lowest in terms of significance (in the US, anyway – abroad it was a much bigger factor).

    1) Low natural gas prices
    2) The fact that the US decided to do nothing about global warming
    3) The economic recession, and other factors (conservation, etc..) that reduced demand growth to zero or even negative.
    4) Fukushima

    Most of the ~30 planned nuclear projects were based on the assumption that the US would have a tangible, meaningful policy to reduce CO2 emissions. None came to pass. Instead all we have is more of the same, i.e., either doing nothing at all or having policies specifically designed to help renewables only. Such policies, most notably portfolio standards, actually hurt nuclear, especially in a climate of soft demand.

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  9. Were it other industries finding PR silver linings in dark clouds, you’d think Fukushima would be touted as the best Doomsday Meltdown Myth killer — the ultimate debunker off all the mega-death irradiated-desert nightmare speculations and scenarios pushed by anti-nukers. Has anyone heard how many have been killed and maimed by fossil and even wind/solar energy production in the last five years? How many times Fukushima’s score? How to turn a public who’d rather eat sky-high fossil/wind prices because they believe “at least it’s -safer- than nuclear”? Getting the public de-FUD’ed is nuclear energy’s prime war for their hearts and reason.but the nuclear community isn’t even in the game.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

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