Transport a driver for nuclear build

29 October 2009

A combination of electric vehicles with clean generation and nuclear power for baseload will solve America's climate and energy security problems, according to testimony from a senior utility chief.


David Crane of NRG Energy, which has some 24,000 MWe of generating capacity, spoke in front of the US Senate's Committee on Climate Change Legislation yesterday.


Crane said: "We need to build a zero carbon baseload foundation under our wind farms and solar fields. That foundation is new advanced nuclear power."


NRG is one of the largest US power generators but at present only 5% of its power comes from nuclear - from a 44% stake in two reactors at South Texas Project, although it has a 50% share of a plan to build to more there.


STP 3 and 4 (STPNOC)


Bond vote delayed

Uncertainty over the final price of the new reactors at South Texas Project has caused the City of San Antonio - owners of CPS Energy, NRG's partner in the plan - to delay a decision to issue $400 million in bonds.
Approval was expected today, but city mayor Julian Castro announced a delay until January 2010. The originally quoted price of $10 billion has already increased to $13 billion.
South Texas Project 3 and 4 will be Advanced Boiling Waster Reactors that produce 1350 MWe each. They are to be built by Toshiba. 

Despite its small contribution to his portfolio, Crane continued to say that nuclear "will provide the juice for a personal transportation system based on a nationwide fleet of electric cars," which he said would dramatically reduce emissions and oil imports.


"We need to focus on a commercial foothold strategy that will quickly capture a significant market share for electric vehicles in key American cities and city clusters," said Crane, adding that "the electrification of our transportation sector will provide the cure to our national addiction to foreign oil."


A release from NRG said that the two new STP reactors would power two million Texas homes - including two million electric cars. Crane lamented that of the 33 reactors currently in various stages of planning and regulatory approval, only a few will actually be built.


"If you assume that all 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States [will be] retired by 2050, that means we need approximately 75 new nuclear units over the next 41 years simply to keep nuclear power's share of electricity production near 20%," explained Crane. "If we want to double the nuclear share of power production to 40% in order to accommodate demand growth and realise a greater carbon benefit, we are going to need to build about 150 new nuclear units. Suffice it to say, there is a big gap between the 3-4 projects moving forward and 150."


To enable a massive wave of nuclear build, Crane called for a price on carbon emissions as well as a range of tools to address worker training, manufacturing capability, more support in the form of loan guarantees that simplify finance and even "making appropriate federal lands available for new plant siting." Lastly, the regulatory regime embodied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must be capable of handling a much larger volume of projects.