Will the Nuclear Renaissance Be Postponed?

Since 2007, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received applications for 17 new nuclear reactor operating licenses, and now estimates that it will get a total of 22 applications for 33 reactors by the end of 2010.
Nuclear advocates have seen this as a sort of validation of the industry’s potential growth. After all, it’s been more than 30 years since a nuclear power plant was even built in the U.S. But thanks to the current state of the economy, excitement over new nuclear development has become dampened.

In fact, just last week, Danny Roderick, senior VP of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, stated that recent market developments are influencing the pace of new power plant projects, and U.S. nuclear power development might be slowed.
Even those in Washington that were touting a new U.S. nuclear renaissance less than a year ago, are now being confronted with the fact that this “renaissance” is likely to be postponed. As a result, nuclear champions in Washington are jumping through hoops in an effort to get more funding for nuclear. Some are even calling for nuclear energy to be included in a national renewable portfolio standard.
And certainly the debate over the Yucca Mountain repository (and lack of funding by the Obama administration), isn’t helping the industry either.
Still, the build-out and transition of our overall energy infrastructure IS going to happen. There’s little debate there. If we have any intention of maintaining our very comfortable way of life, this is an absolute necessity. And nuclear will be a part of this. However, will we really see an actual nuclear renaissance? Or will nuclear growth continue to be limited, like it has been for the past three decades?
It’s a tough call.
Beyond the current economic slowdown, the industry still has many hurdles to overcome. Such as…
* Uranium depletion
* Safety concerns
* Waste disposal issues
The industry also has to contend with labor issues.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, in the next five years up to 19,600 nuclear workers – 35 percent of the workforce – will reach retirement age. These are workers that are needed to not only build the new plants, but to operate existing facilities too. And it’s not as if we have a wealth of qualified workers racing to get into the nuclear business.
Here’s what Dale Klein, the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to say about skilled workers in the nuclear industry…

“Where are we going to get the educated and skilled workers to safely run the current fleet of reactors over extended lifetimes and the potential nuclear plants of the future? Where are they being educated? Where are they being trained?”

But again, even with all the obstacles, there’s little doubt that nuclear will continue to be a key piece of our energy mix. Some of these issues will certainly be addressed, like skilled labor, for instance. And others will likely be set aside for someone else to worry about down the road. The latter not being the most responsible choice, although it is a very realistic one, and not at all unanticipated based on our long history of leaving messes for others to clean up.
So the question is, how much expansion should we really expect, and how fast can it happen? There are plenty of industry experts, outspoken politicians, and talk show bullies that could give us any number of answers. But what do you think?
And here’s another question for you…
As mentioned earlier, some in Washington are now attempting to add nuclear to the definition of renewable energy in an effort to get nuclear energy included in a national renewable portfolio standard. Certainly nuclear cannot be considered renewable, as it relies on a non-renewable resource. But should it be included anyway? And if so, why?
We look forward to reading your comments.

I am the co-founder and managing editor of Green Chip Stocks. We are an independent investment research service focused exclusively on "green" markets.