Thursday, 27 January 2005

Not just the newlyweds glowing in Port Gibson

Interesting piece in today’s New York Times about plans to build another nuclear reactor next to Entergy’s existing nuclear plant about 60 miles southwest of Jackson. (þ: Tom Maguire and a student)

Friday, 28 January 2005

Nuclear power

Chris’s earlier entry on nuclear power got me thinking. I spent a few years in the industry and got to witness it change from a horribly inefficient industry to one that is quite competitive—after deregulation of generation, of course. The time is certainly ripe for new plants, since the existing fleet’s licenses begin to expire in the next few years.

My guess is that with a simplified design and a simple licensing process, new plants would be built in short order. Deregulation is something that worked amazingly well. Indeed, far better than this capitalist oppressor ever imagined. When I started in the industry, fresh out of college, I had pretty much taken it for granted that power generation—just like the power lines themselves—was a natural monopoly.

Once deregulation was in place, though, peoples’ thinking seemed to change. Before deregulation, the nuclear plants seemed to compete to see who could stay offline the longest. The plant operators were quick to take a plant offline to demonstrate their commitment to safety. Somewhere during the transition to a competitive generating environment, both the regulators and the plant operators figured out that the best run plants were also the ones that were the safest. In other words, the NRC and operators started asking why a shutdown was required. Why didn’t we know that the conditions requiring a shutdown were emerging, and how can we claim to know how to run the plant if we can’t see these things? In short, incentives matter.

As long as they can be run safely and economically, I would love to see some new plants come online. The issue of dealing with spent fuel is another problem—it’s a huge unrecognized liability and it’s unclear to this day whether Yucca Mountain will ever be available as a permanent repository for spent fuel. Even so, having nuclear power as a continuing alternative for energy needs is a great idea as I see it.