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United States Power Science

First New Nuclear Plant in US in 30 years 838

Hugh Pickens writes "With backing from the White House and congressional leaders, and subsidies like the $500 million in risk insurance from the Department of Energy, the nuclear industry is experiencing a revival in the US. Scientific American reports that this week NRG Energy filed an application for the first new nuclear power plant in the US in thirty years to build two advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR) at its South Texas nuclear power plant site doubling the 2700 megawatts presently generated at the facility. The ABWR, based on technology already operating in Japan, works by using the heat generated by the controlled splitting of uranium atoms in fuel rods to directly boil water into steam to drive turbines producing electricity. Improvements over previous designs include removing water circulation pipes that could rupture and accidentally drain water from the reactor, exposing the fuel rods to a potential meltdown, and fewer pumps to move the water through the system. NRG projects it will spend $6 billion constructing the two new reactors and hopes to have the first unit online by 2014."
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First New Nuclear Plant in US in 30 years

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  • by quigonn ( 80360 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:28AM (#20765609) Homepage
    Everybody busy reading TFA?
  • Hey!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by madbawa ( 929673 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:28AM (#20765611) Journal
    So this is what Ahmadinejad was called there to inaugurate! Cool.
  • Why? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eniac42 ( 1144799 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:37AM (#20765655) Journal
    Given the vast alternative resources available to the US, why do this before building large scale solar and wind plants? Is it really going to be cheaper than (say) paving large areas of desert with ever-cheaper solar cells? Or building the really large wind-farm projects in the many available on/off shore locations? As technology advances, these alternatives have got cheaper and cheaper..

    And the full cost of Nuclear Waste disposal is still not known, nor is it included in the quoted "price" of the electricity..
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:42AM (#20765681)
      It's not instead of. It's in addition to. "Pave Arizona with solar cells" vs "Build new nuclear plants" is a false dichotomy. All of these things are better than oil, especially given the foreign dependencies that entails. So we do several of them in parallel, while we figure out what the best answer is. My hunch is that we will continue to generate electricity from many sources for a long, long time to come. Just as the best approach to renewable energy is not solar, or wind, or hydro, or biofuels, but probably a mix of all of these, the best answer to reducing fossil fuel usage probably includes a mix of alternatives.
      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:06AM (#20765811) Homepage Journal
        I'll equate nuclear fission energy to other forms of energy when somebody finally releases the true figures of the cost per kW/h.

        They must include the expenses for keeping nuclear waste in safety from leaks, terrorism and international crime, the expenses to cure people when depleted uranium is dumped into the environment during wars and so on.

        Basically we are betting the safety of the planet on the assumption that future generations will find tech to render radiation harmless AND that this tech won't be used to enslave people (in a polluted world the ones with that tech decide who lives and who doesn't).

        I think better try fusion, or even recreate what Nikola Tesla did. At least we know it's already been done once.
      • Enhanced biofuels (Score:3, Interesting)

        by spectrokid ( 660550 )
        If you make biofuels the "traditional" way, you use microorganisms to break down molecules. These organisms use part of the energy stored in the fuel, and on top of that they are usually quite specific. What would be better would be to build a big nuclear reactor, and use its energy to heat up your (agricultural) waste to plasma temperatures. Inject coal, water or air to control your final product, and allow the plasma to condense, possibly in contact with the right catalysers. Voila: biofuel. And inst
      • In which case (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 )

        It's not instead of. It's in addition to. "Pave Arizona with solar cells" vs "Build new nuclear plants" is a false dichotomy. All of these things are better than oil, especially given the foreign dependencies that entails.

        The best option then is for government to stop trying to "pick winners" and subsidise them to success. That's a socialist command and control way of thinking and leads to decades of heading in the wrong direction.

        Simply allow the power generators to choose their preferred technologies. The most economically viable solutions will be popular, the unviable ones will fade away. If nuclear is viable it'll get rolled out. if not, it won't.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by evanbd ( 210358 )
          I'd agree in principle, but there are a lot of external costs that need to be factored in. Proper waste disposal for nuclear, waste disposal (CO2 and otherwise) for fossil fuels (including global warming impact etc), and environmental impacts from damning rivers and putting wind mills in flight paths. Less government meddling would be good, but forcing the market to properly account for all costs is good too ("internalize the externalities" to use the econ phrase). In the mean time, though, I'll take imp
          • Permit to pollute (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Colin Smith ( 2679 )
            It's already being done for NOX, SO2, CO2 and other pollutants rather successfully. All the politicians have to to is sample the environment regularly and set maximum acceptable limits.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kestasjk ( 933987 )

      Is it really going to be cheaper than (say) paving large areas of desert with ever-cheaper solar cells? Or building the really large wind-farm projects in the many available on/off shore locations?

      Yes, with a capital 'Y'. Much, much cheaper, much, much more scalable, and also more environmentally friendly.

      As technology advances, these alternatives have got cheaper and cheaper..

      But nowhere near cheap enough, and still not scalable enough. You might be able to run your car pretty cheap on biofuel, but if everyone wanted to use it it just wouldn't scale up.

      And the full cost of Nuclear Waste disposal is still not known, nor is it included in the quoted "price" of the electricity..

      Actually waste storage is included in the price, and so is the decommission of the nuclear plant. Contrast this with a coal plant, where the cost of dealing with climate change definitely isn't included in the price.

  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:39AM (#20765661) Journal
    The Solution to "Not In My Back Yard" [wikipedia.org] seems to be "We'll just expand existing facilities."

    The STP site in Matagorda County, Texas is considered to be one of the best sites in America for nuclear expansion. The 12,220-acre site and 7,000-acre cooling reservoir were originally designed for four units.
    Unfortunately, this isn't going to apply for nearly enough sites to allow for a significant boom in building.

    There are many reactors which have problems operating right now because of local/regional water supply issues. Either water levels are too low or temperatures are too high... And it will only get worse in many states.

    Worse as in 'even if the climate stops screwing around, most states have done a shitty job managing growth in relation to their water resources'.
  • by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:47AM (#20765715) Journal
    [Taps fingertips together.]
  • I'm torn... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cliveholloway ( 132299 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:54AM (#20765749) Homepage Journal
    On the one hand, no matter how much time and effort is put into building a nuclear reactor, there's always a small chance that human error will cause a catastrophic meltdown leading to an almost incalculable loss of human life.

    But, on the other hand, they're going to build it in Texas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      And there's a small chance an asteroid may wipe us all out, and yet we persevere.

      If we never did anyting until there was zero risk, we'd still be living in caves.
  • Congratulations! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maimun ( 631984 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @05:57AM (#20765761)
    Well done! Nuclear energy has little alternative at this moment and the near future. I hope more people will start realising that as the energy crisis becomes more severe.

    Maybe one day we will have thermonuclear power plants, the nuclear reactors will be obsolete, and we will have abundant energy. I dunno. Right now, however, there is a shortage of energy. We rely too much on natural gas and petroleum. The exporters of those feel their power and twist the arms of the importers. The money made from gas and oil are insane and they are the foundation of too many of the world's tyrants and lunatics-in-power. Cut their revenue streams and they will suffocate.

    It seems that making abundant electricity can alleviate that problem at least as far as natural gas is concerned, so we can get rid of the natural gas racketeers (mainly Russia). If we go to hydrogen economy we can liberate ourselves from the petroleum racketeers as well. To have hydrogen-based economy we need a lot of energy. People get excited by the progress in fuel cell technology but rarely ask themselves how hydrogen is to be produced in gigantic quantities.

    True, there are risks in nuclear energy production that can't just vanish. But, dammit, nuclear energy has no alternative for the moment.

  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:01AM (#20765785) Homepage Journal
    It's about time we started building new nuclear reactors. Anyone who wants to seriously reduce our oil addiction must look at nuclear -- it's really the only cost effective alternative, and it's safe, all the FUD aside.

    Ironically, the FUD comes from greens, that should be supporting the things. But then again they've protested hydroelectric (kills fish), wind (kills birds), geothermal (OMG, it is cooling our crusts), so /shrug.
  • by Yeti.SSM ( 869826 ) <yeti,ssm&atlas,cz> on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:23AM (#20765911) Homepage
    I just call... vaporware!

  • unfortunate (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:41AM (#20765985)
    I had hoped that when new nuclear reactors showed up in the U.S., they would be of more sensible designs, like pebble-bed or thorium. *sigh*
    • Re:unfortunate (Score:5, Informative)

      by bockelboy ( 824282 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @08:04AM (#20766655)
      The pebble-bed reactors are still several years out; they're considered gen IV, which are expected to arrive in 2030. The thorium reactors aren't particularly new (MSRE was what, the 60's?), but operators have been reluctant to build one, as they are radically different and nuclear power plant operators are a tad conservative... I suspect it might require a little nudging from the government. The ABWR is a gen III+ reactor, and not a particularly advanced one at that. They, however, do have a proven success record and, like most modern designs, incredibly safe.
  • READ FIRST (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2007 @06:42AM (#20765995)
    Before blasting nuclear energy as *potential* radioactive hazard READ THIS FIRST: coal-fired power plants dump tons of mercury polluting water and fish and turning good source of omega3 into a poison:

    http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html [epa.gov]
    http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/3370_MercuryPowerPlants.pdf [environmentaldefense.org]

    thank you for your time
  • reprocessing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @07:02AM (#20766105) Homepage
    I'd be happier if the USA began doing nuclear fuel reprocessing, which I believe is currently banned. Uranium fuel production will peak in the next few decades, much like oil and gas, so reprocessing is a good way to guarantee a supply of fuel and allow the reuse of existing spent fuel.
  • US sources of energy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Diakoneo ( 853127 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @07:06AM (#20766129)
    For reference. I found these here. [wikipedia.org]

    Coal-fired plants - 49.0 percent
    Nuclear plants - 19.8 percent
    Natural gas-fired plants - 19.2 percent
    Petroleum-fired plants - 1.8 percent
    Conventional hydroelectric power - 7.1 percent
    Solar, wind, etc - 3.1 percent
  • Call me naive... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @07:45AM (#20766463)
    But isn't a better solution just to be much more efficient with the energy you already produce?
    • Re:Call me naive... (Score:4, Informative)

      by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2@earthsh[ ]co.uk ['od.' in gap]> on Thursday September 27, 2007 @08:56AM (#20767149)
      But the problem is that there's a limit to how far you can take energy efficiency. It's like short-cuts; you might be able to shave a whole hour off a journey by taking a different route, and there might even be another short-cut that knocks off another ten minutes, but eventually you're going to be taking the most direct route possible and there is no quicker way to get there. Well, at some point you will have everything as efficient as it possibly can get -- then, there's no more saving to be had. For instance, if you replace a gravity-fed hot water system with fully-pumped, you increase efficiency. If you improve your home's insulation, so you aren't heating outdoors, you increase efficiency. If you replace the old permanent-pilot boiler with one using electronic ignition, you increase efficiency, and if it's a condensing boiler, you increase efficiency even more. If you replace the boiler and hot water cylinder with a condensing combination boiler, and you have perfect insulation, you now have the most efficient hot water and heating system that exists: every joule of potential energy that you can liberate from the gas is ending up in your hot water or your radiators.

      Even if you can get the per-capita energy requirement as low as possible (and the trend over time is generally upward, with infrequent downward spikes as energy-saving technologies are invented), the population is still growing. Energy conservation is very much a game of diminishing returns.
  • by TerranFury ( 726743 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @08:50AM (#20767093)

    If it's not a fast breeder reactor, it's not a solution to the energy problem.

    U235 would run out within the next 60 years, IIRC, if we got all of our power from traditional nuclear powerplants like this one!

    However, the world has tons of U238, so breeders could provide power for a long time. And if you made the changes necessary to run the breeders on Thorium instead of U238 (Thorium is even more abundant), then you coul provide power nearly indefinitely.

    Breeders also solve the waste problem: The reason radioactive waste is so dangerous is that it still has tons of energy in it; the decay is the slow release of that energy. Since breeders extract so much more energy from fuel, their wastes have much shorter half-lives, and decay to the levels of naturally-occurring ores within a few hundred years -- which isn't great, but (1) sure beats the millennia we're talking about with our current wastes, and (2) seems to be a timescale society can handle.

    We need breeders. Pebble-beds are wasteful; they (1) don't breed, and (2) generate a lot of pebble-coating waste. Anything but breeder reactors, and solar/wind/geothermal/hydro, is a waste of time. Breeder reactors are the only technology we currently have that can solve the energy problem. We should be building breeders.

  • Greenpeace? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheEdge757 ( 1157503 ) on Thursday September 27, 2007 @10:34AM (#20768441) Journal
    This is something I've found extremely ironic. It's old news, but relevant to the article. After years of doing damage to the nation by opposing nuclear power, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has officially renounced his anti-nuclear groups, and called on other environmentalists to do the same.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/14/AR2006041401209.html [washingtonpost.com]

    What the real pity is, is that these people were the ones who made it so incredibly difficult (litigation and monetarily) to build a new power plant. Back when opposing nuclear power was the cool thing to do, they lobbied and pushed for increasingly ludicrous laws and fees to try to stymy the growth of nuclear power. I'm sure they had good intentions, but this is just a classic example of a bunch of people latching on to a flawed idea, and then doing a ton of harm with it. As a result of it, now that they realize how dumb they were, or maybe just ruled by emotion, and call on people to start building power plants again, it's almost impossible to do it based on the litigation they themselves fought for.

    In some way (of course they aren't the sole reason), they helped contribute to our complete dependence on Middle Eastern oil, and if you buy into what they say the war is about, they started it themselves.

    To be honest, I really do hope that environmentalists start jumping on board here to try to make up for the damage they did. Make no mistake, I'm totally for not littering, and maybe even not building on the land of endangered species, but man, Greeenpeace has done some dumbass shit. By all means, nuclear power should be regulated, and standards enforced, but it really isn't the anti-christ. Seriously!

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.