After the disaster at Fukushima, and the discovery that some nuclear power plants right here in the US (such as Indian Point, which is close to one of the most populated cities in the world: New York City) may be just as vulnerable, scientists are rethinking nuclear power. Should we forget about it (as Germany has)–or find a new way to use it?
In the December 17th edition of the New York Times, Victor Gilinsky writes: "Federal regulators have yet to absorb the lessons from (Fukushima). The owners of the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County, 25 miles north of New York City, are asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend their operating licenses for 20 years. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo strongly opposes those renewals."
Small modular reactors may solve the problem. They would have a generating capacity of 600 megawatts or less, would be factory-built as modular components, and then shipped to their desired location for assembly. A 2004 study concluded that the nuclear energy industry would need financial incentives from the federal government in order to build new plants that could compete with coal- and gas-fired plants. It would now cost $4,210 per kilowatt to build a new gigawatt-scale reactor.
The key challenge facing the industry is the seven-to-nine-year gap between making a commitment to build a nuclear plant and revenue generation. Few companies can afford to wait that long to see a return on the $10 billion investment that a large-scale nuclear plant would require. Researcher John Hamre says, "This is a real problem,” but the advent of the small modular reactor “offers the promise of factory construction efficiencies and a much shorter timeline."
A new study by Robert Rosner and William Wrather says, "It would be a huge stimulus for high-valued job growth, restore US leadership in nuclear reactor technology and, most importantly, strengthen US leadership in a post-Fukushima world, on matters of nuclear safety, nuclear security, nonproliferation, and nuclear waste management."
We know the problems with old-fashioned power plants, but will these new, small nuclear plants be safer?
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