Originally created 06/03/01

Nuclear power possibility gets plants talking



ATLANTA - No American utility has come close to building a nuclear power plant since the reactor meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island in 1979, followed by the disaster at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union a few years later.

But the Bush administration's newly minted energy policy has the industry buzzing over the possibility of bringing nuclear power back from dormancy. The president embraces nuclear plants as a major component in a diversified portfolio of energy sources.

But none of the utilities with major investments in nuclear power is going beyond the talking stage. Georgia Power Co., which operates two nuclear plants near Augusta and Baxley, isn't eager to build a third.

Neither is Progress Energy, the parent company of Carolina Power & Light, which operates two nuclear plants in the Carolinas and one in Florida.

"We have no plans to build any new nuclear units until the country comes to grips with the issue of spent nuclear fuel," said Keith Poston, a spokesman for Progress Energy.

Mr. Poston said any movement toward nuclear power is being held up by opposition in Congress to a proposal to build a permanent national repository for high-level radioactive waste beneath the Nevada desert. Without a disposal site for the waste created by nuclear power generation, utilities can't afford to create more of the material, he said.

Mr. Bush's allies in Congress are working to create a better atmosphere for revitalizing the nuclear industry.

U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham is sponsoring legislation that would offer tax credits to utilities using nuclear power to create additional generating capacity. The Republican's South Carolina district includes the Savannah River Site, a former nuclear-weapons production facility that hopes to parlay civilian nuclear projects into new jobs.

Current federal law allows tax credits for other alternatives to fossil fuels, but not nuclear energy.

"It's environmentally the cleanest form of energy, equivalent to solar and wind power," Mr. Graham said.

But opponents of nuclear power argue that not only is it inherently dangerous, it's also an inefficient source of energy.

"It requires a large capacity of electricity to supply the generation of nuclear energy," said Rita Kilpatrick, the executive director of Georgians for Clean Energy. "Why would you promote a highly resource-intensive source of supply when you're claiming there's a shortage of supply in the first place?"

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.