Watershed year ahead for US nuclear industry

22 January 2018

This may be a "watershed" year for the US nuclear industry, which must maintain a strong domestic sector by keeping its reactors operating but must also demonstrate it can build new plants, while paving the way for advanced reactors, the Nuclear Energy Institute's (NEI) John Kotek told the US Energy Association's State of the Energy Forum on 18 January.

NEI's John Kotek addresses the State of the Energy Industry Forum (Image: NEI)

"It is critical that we maintain a strong domestic nuclear sector; this begins by keeping our existing plants operating," the NEI's vice-president for policy development and public affairs told the Forum. Much of the action to preserve existing plants will take place at the state level, he said. New York, Illinois and Connecticut have "shown the way", and other states need to follow. "We're encouraged by the states' recognition of the need to keep nuclear plants open, whether for emissions reduction or energy diversity," he said.

A failure to value appropriately all the benefits of nuclear power has contributed to an uneven playing field that is forcing nuclear plants to close prematurely, he said. The decision by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to terminate proceedings on Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposed rulemaking on grid resilience and reliability provoked an important conversation about the role of nuclear plants in ensuring a resilient, reliable grid, he said.

Perry's proposed rulemaking, submitted to FERC in September last year, would have specifically recognised the attributes of generation sources able to store fuel on site. The regulator announced its decision on 8 January, after receiving over 1500 submissions on the proposed rule. Instead, it has launched a new proceeding to address resilience in a broader context. At the time, NEI President and CEO Maria Korsnick said the organisation was disappointed that FERC had not taken affirmative action that would preserve the nation's nuclear power plants, but praised Perry's efforts to place the issue on the national agenda.

Kotek said the nuclear industry must demonstrate that it can build and complete nuclear plants. He said the decision to proceed with the nuclear construction project at Vogtle in Georgia was significant, offering an opportunity for the US nuclear sector to show it can "successfully" build new reactors.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's recent conclusion that NuScale Power's small modular reactor design can operate safely without the need for so-called 1E electrical power supplies - a key aspect of the design - was a positive development. He said NRC's approval offered a "new paradigm for regulatory efficiency".

The annual State of the Energy Industry Forum, held to coincide with the first State of the Union Address of the year, is one of the US Energy Association's flagship meetings, bringing together energy industry associations, lawmakers, regulators, energy industry influencers, diplomats, thought leaders, and journalists to discuss energy issues facing the USA and the world. This was the 14th Forum and was held at the National Press Club, in Washington DC.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News