Plans for new nuclear build in the USA have been delayed due to a lack of demand for electricity, according to the head of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI). Nevertheless,TVA's forward planning sees it increasing its nuclear capacity over the next 20 years.
|Watts Bar (Image: TVA)
Speaking in London at the Annual Symposium of the World Nuclear Association, NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel told the meeting that the economic downturn, along with a decline in the price of natural gas, has caused forward power prices to fall to levels well below those previously predicted. The country now faces a similar situation to the past 15 years, during which time 320 GWe of gas-fired plant capacity was built, compared with a total of only 20 GWe of capacity from all other forms of generation. "Gas is going to be the dominant part of the new supply source," Fertel said.
Although 13 combined construction and operating licence (COL) applications, representing 22 new nuclear reactors, are under active review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Fertel said that the industry is not expecting construction to begin on so many reactors in the near future. If four to eight reactors would start up by 2020, this would be a "successful start" to new nuclear construction.
Nuclear expanding for TVA
A new draft Integrated Resources Policy (IRP) released by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) sees nuclear expansion continuing over the next two decades. In drawing up the IRP, which will help guide efforts to meet regional electricity needs over the next 20 years, the authority has examined seven possible long-term scenarios based on factors such as economic growth, inflation, fuel prices and the regulatory environment. The IRP process also included the development of various possible strategies that TVA might employ to meet power needs, which were in turn used to draw up 20-year power generation portfolios.
Nuclear expansion is present in the majority of portfolios, with the first additional nuclear unit being added between 2018 and 2022. The study also suggests the TVA is likely to idle or lay up some 2000-7000 MWe of its coal-fired capacity as coal units become older and less economical under tighter regulations. Nuclear could potentially overtake coal as the utility’s leading generation source, the authority notes.
The draft plan is now being opened up to public comment.
Pre-construction activities for new nuclear reactors have begun at Vogtle in Georgia and V.C. Summer in Sourth Carolina. Two Westinghouse AP1000 are planned for each site, the first of which (at Vogtle) is expected to commence operation in late 2016. Meanwhile, work to complete TVA's Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee is due to finish in 2013. Construction on the unit was suspended in 1985 and resumed in 2007.
Apart from the COL applications for the Vogtle and Summer reactors, Fertel said that most of the remaining applications that have been submitted should be seen in terms of utilities "positioning" themselves for when new nuclear build "makes sense as a business decision." The construction schedules for most of these new plants have been put back, he said. "We've seen a number of our nuclear planned plants, particularly in the southeast, move out in time."
In the near future, Fertel believes electricity demand will be filled by natural gas, the price of which is likely to remain low as shale gas production continues to grow. In addition, "we will not see a bill that puts a price on carbon any time in the near future," further adding to the price advantage that gas has over its competitors.
However, Fertel noted that the country's aim to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 cannot be met without a "significant amount" of nuclear. "So we will see significant build out in the US as we go forward."
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News