Advancing Technology: 'American Idle' - Nuclear Power

New U.S. nuclear power plants will not be operative for years, but the licensing process to allow building the first of new generation plants is nearing approval - September 2010 Control Engineering.

09/02/2010


Despite not having brought online a single new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years, the 104 nuclear generators (at 65 plant sites) currently operating in the U.S. still comprise the largest number of nuclear units in one country. Perhaps more remarkable is that refueling improvements, advances in control and safety systems, plus other technology upgrades over time, have raised the capacity factor (CF) of these plants to more than 90% on average. This is significantly higher than elsewhere or for electricity generation from other energy sources. CF is a prime parameter of power plant performance.

 
Top Countries with Nuclear Power Generators Installed and Corresponding % Electric Generation

  Country

  Number of Units

  % Electric Generation*

  U.S.

 

             104

 

                   20

 

  France

 

              58

 

                   77

 

  Japan

 

              54

 

                   26

 

  Russia

 

              32

 

                   16

 

* Other small countries with different power demands derive higher % electric generation from fewer nuclear reactors.
Source: World Nuclear Association and Control Engineering.

Cost of neglect

It borders on national oversight that not one new U.S. nuclear plant has been added in all those years. Resulting losses range widely: years of application and operating experience with new plant designs, two generations of new nuclear engineering talent, many potential high-tech jobs, and technology leadership.

Then, we have the spent-fuel storage fiasco. After 30 years of study, investigation, testing, and $10 billion spent to arrive at a solution, the Yucca Mountain, NV, nuclear waste repository site—which included digging miles of tunnels among other facility developments—has been virtually scrapped.

Spent fuel remains stored under water at individual plants, largely unchanged from the initial, temporary containment method. While this has worked on a temporary basis, nuclear waste remains an issue for the industry. Permanent solutions are within reach of engineers but require decision and empowerment.

Cautious optimism ahead

Still, positive developments are in play for the future of U.S. nuclear power. The long legal approval process to build a plant has been shortened by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s adoption of a combined operating license (COL)—a construction permit and operating license in one. COLs for some 17 sites are in process, but fewer plants are expected to be built due to financing difficulties and other industry uncertainties.

Leading the line for new licensing is Southern Nuclear Operating Co.’s application to build and operate two reactors near Augusta, GA, on the site of the two-unit Vogtle nuclear plant. COL approval is not expected before late 2011 or early 2012. Start of commercial operation for Units 3 and 4 is planned for 2016 and 2017, respectively, according to Southern Co.

Limited work under early site permits is ongoing at several sites. Some developers have also started long-lead-time equipment procurement, such as ordering major forgings and other engineering or limited construction activities. The reactors awaiting certification are of several so-called “advanced generation III” designs with U.S. and international origins. Overall, not more than eight new nuclear plants are expected to be online by 2020.

Another possible longer-term development is a “smaller is better” approach to nuclear plant design.

Industry experts say that only two events can stop renewal of nuclear power as part of a realistic mix of U.S. energy sources: a major accident and a terrorist attack on a plant. In the meantime, nuclear power supporters and opponents alike continue to enjoy its benefits—which amounted to 20.2% of U.S. electric power generation in 2009.

For more information, visit:

www.nrc.gov

www.southerncompany.com

www.world-nuclear.org

Frank J. Bartos, P.E., is a Control Engineering consulting editor. Reach him at braunbart@sbcglobal.net.

Also read, from Control Engineering:

Is Smaller Better for Nuclear Power Plants?



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
Inside IIoT: How technology, strategy can improve your operation; Dry media or web scrubber?; Six steps to design a PM program
World-class manufacturing: A recipe for success: Finding the right mix for a salad dressing line; 2015 Salary Survey: Manufacturing slump dims enthusiasm
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming
Managing automation upgrades, retrofits; Making technical, business sense; Ensuring network cyber security
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
click me