As someone who spends a fair amount of time thinking about the future of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S., I’ve organized my thoughts to describe what I think are four key priorities for 2010. In short, these are my proposals for new year’s resolutions for the U.S. nuclear industry.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the future of the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. Critics are exploiting the fault lines that have already appeared, and some, under the guise of scholarship, cherry pick their sources to make the case for failure. Their objective is to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of business and government decision makers.

I’m not prepared to accept a long-term future for the U.S. as being an agnostic on nuclear energy while the U.K. France, Italy, India, China, and other countries put the pedal to the metal to build dozens of new reactors to meet the challenge of global climate change.

At a panel discussion held at the ANS winter meeting on 17 November about how the news media covers the nuclear energy industry, four seasoned journalists said one of the issues they have with the industry is that it is unclear about its priorities and does a poor job of communicating them.

Here’s an opportunity for you to weigh in on these priorities. According to Google Analytics, a lot of people in the industry read my blog. If you want to speak to them, post a comment about these priorities.

GNP Funding

A key path to meeting the challenge of public acceptance of nuclear energy in the U.S. is widespread stock ownership of the plants through publically-traded corporations. In order for utilities to develop stock offerings, the U.S. government must place the full faith and credit of federal loan guarantees behind the new plants.

The amount of coverage should be in the range of $200 billion over three decades, which is enough to support about two dozen new reactors. Without the loan guarantees, few utilities have the market capitalization to ‘bet the company’ on a multi-billion dollar investment in a new nuclear reactor.


The second critical issue which requires attention is developing a cadre of nuclear engineers and skilled trades capable of building new reactors on time and within budget.

Foreign competition will raid U.S. engineering programs for talent unless the federal government puts in place a scholarship program and partnership with industry for jobs to channel graduates to U.S. projects. Secure funding for new reactors, via loan guarantees, will convince engineering students to enter the nuclear energy field.

Supply Chain

The third critical issue is revitalizing U.S. manufacturing capabilities including development of a facility to produce large forgings, e.g., 400 tons or more, for reactor vessels. There are three manufacturing centers under development by Areva in Virginia, Shaw in Louisiana, and Babcock & Wilcox/McDermott at locations in Ohio and Indiana.

Without these capabilities, the U.S. new nuclear build will create demand that will drive up the global costs of nuclear reactor components and produce delays in construction. For instance, despite increases in capacity, Japan Steel Works reports a three-to-four year wait time for 400 ton reactor vessels.

If the USA wants to build reactors on time and within budget, it needs to have its own supply chain. Everyone else building reactors wants to complete their master equipment list from the same suppliers. Right now we are in a situation where reactor parts come from Japan, fuel comes from Russia, and the turbines come from Europe. Plus, home-grown supply chains mean high paying manufacturing jobs for U.S. workers.

Fuel Cycle

The fourth critical issue is to resolve issue of management of the spent fuel by developing two strategically located 500 ton/year recycling plants. Related to this initiative is the need for a commercial MOX fuel manufacturing capability.

The final part of this initiative is development of commercial versions of fast reactors to burn the MOX fuel and complete the fuel cycle. The U.S. MOX plant being built at Savannah River will use weapons grade plutonium as its feedstock, and cannot be considered in the near-term as a facility in this commercial spent fuel initiative.

This strategy, which needs to evolve through R&D, pilot projects, and commercial acceptance, is far more cost-effective than the burden of indefinitely storing tens or hundreds of thousands of tons of spent fuel and the loss of the energy potential of the spent fuel itself.

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This article was originally published on Idaho Samizdat,

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