Cheap natural gas, not Japan crisis has more impact on new nuclear reactors, expert says

COLUMBIA -- Market forces, not Japan’s Fukushima crisis, will affect the nuclear Renaissance predicted as the world grapples with growing energy needs.

 

That and other predictions were made Thursday by John Marra, the associate lab director of the Savannah River National Laboratory, during his presentation, “Beyond Fukushima--What Lies in Store for Nuclear Power” before a classroom full of University of South Carolina students.

“If you look at the impact of Fukushima on the nuclear renaissance, particularly in new nuclear build in the United States? ... Honestly, it’s not had much impact,” said Marra.

The bigger impact, he said, is the country’s access to cheap natural gas.

“The answer to energy is almost always money.”

Traditional barriers would remain, including facility safety or perception of safety, capital costs, particularly loan guarantees, proliferation concerns and waste management.

However, he said the catastrophe at the Fukushima reactor complex would lead to changes in the current nuclear fuel cycle, such as a push for “accident-tolerant” fuels to be used, new design and engineering and changes in regulations.

Worldwide there are about 436 operating reactors, more than one quarter of which are in the United States. Forty-three are under construction, 106 are planned or ordered, and 266 are proposed. In the United states 13-17 applications are under review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“I’m proud to say the first four to be built will be built within 100-mile radius of where we’re sitting right now,” said Marra, listing two in the works at Plant Vogtle in Georgia and two at the Virgil C. Summer facility in South Carolina.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sent experts to Japan immediately after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and in July, a task force released a report of safety recommendations There will be more than 100 nuclear power plants in operation throughout the country in the long-term future, according to the report writers’ predictions.

The Savannah River Site assisted in the aftermath, in part by performing tests on hundreds of soil and air samples from Japan to check for radionuclides and measure the environmental and agricultural effects of the event.

In September, six months after the tsunami, Bob Trojanowski, director of state and governmental affairs for U.S. NRC- Region II Atlanta, told the S.C. Governor’s Nuclear Advisory Council that, “There is continued confidence in safety and emergency preparedness programs.”

 

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