Spencer Abraham, the US energy secretary, has announced plans to set up a public private partnership (PPP) to bring new nuclear plants online by 2010.
In a speech to the Global Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington, DC, Abraham referred to the "significant barriers that make it difficult for a utility to make the business decision to order a new nuclear power plant" and described how he would work with industry to help bring down these barriers and so "pave the way for an industry decision to build safe, new plants." Under the new initiative - Nuclear Power 2010 - the Department of Energy (DoE) will cooperate with industry to explore a range of potential sites before any decision is actually made to build a plant.
To this end, Abraham said that two utilities, Exelon and Dominion Resources, had begun cooperative projects to conduct scoping studies at both private and federal sites.
He identified a number of key milestones that need to be reached, based on recommendations by the Near-Term Deployment Group, set up by the DoE:
• Extension of the Price Anderson nuclear insurance law.
• Resolution of the issue of nuclear waste disposal.
• Demonstration of a new regulatory process that would enable utilities to obtain combined construction/operating licences.
• Answering the question of whether or not advanced technology can be brought to the US market.
The issue of security following the September 11 terrorist attacks was another barrier to building new plants. "Safety at our plants is, of course, a legitimate concern," Abraham said. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its counterparts around the world, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, are working hard to address these challenges.
"But we can be alert to the dangers without caving into fear. We must not let terrorists dictate our future energy choices. It is essential that government and industry work together to make sure that we are taking all necessary actions to protect our existing nuclear plants and applying the best minds in this country to make future nuclear plants even less vulnerable to attack." Abraham said that the aim of Nuclear Power 2010 was to "establish a competitive process that will encourage utilities to coalesce around the most promising nuclear plant technologies. We believe that one or two nuclear plant designs are already close to meeting the economic requirements of the market and we will consider supporting the certification of these designs and their application in the 'one-step' licensing process." The administration has proposed a budget of $38.5 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 programme in the next fiscal year. "Once Congress approves that budget, we will begin to answer the question of whether we can license new plants in the US," Abraham said.
The total budget request for 2003 comes to $21.9 billion. A large proportion - over $8 billion - is requested for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous agency with the DoE that carries out the department's nuclear defence and non-proliferation programmes. The DoE also asked for $6.7 billion for cleanup of defence facilities.
For energy programmes, almost $2.4 billion is requested to support the Bush administration energy plan. Of this, $250.7 million would come under the budget of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, which is responsible for leading the government's investment in nuclear science and technology.
Broken down, the budget sought for the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology comprises: $17.5 million for university reactor fuel assistance and support; $25 million for the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI), $7 million less than this year's level; $46.5 million for nuclear energy technologies (including $38.5 million for Nuclear Power 2010), an increase on the $12 million received in 2002; $36.1 million for the Fast Flux Test Facility; $83.0 million for radiological facilities management; $24.3 million for programme direction; and $18.2 million for spent fuel pyroprocessing and transmutation, down from $77.3 million this year. No budget was sought for the nuclear energy plant optimisation (NEPO) programme, or advanced nuclear medicine initiative. The Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology said it would continue to support NEPO programme objectives, but the advanced nuclear medicine initiative will no longer be pursued "due to change in focus to emphasise other research and development activities such as near-term deployment of new nuclear plants."