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Obama's Nuclear Power Plans

By James Stafford | Fri, 23 November 2012 17:47 | 3

This week in energy, let’s go nuclear for a change.

And let’s start with the Obama administration’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power. This time around things will be smaller and ostensibly safer.

This new nuclear generation was given greater impetus on Tuesday when the administration announced it would fund up to 50% of the cost of a 5-year project to design and commercialize small, modular reactors.

Who’s funding the other 50%? The project, which hopes to be operational by 2022, will be led by Babcock & Wilcox energy technology company of Charlotte, in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bechtel International. And of course, we can’t forget Bill Gates, a key private investor who is driving interest in other forms of advanced nuclear energy.  

What is unique about the project is the small modular reactor design. They are about one-third the size of existing reactors. The technology used has already been implemented by the US Navy, but not commercialized. The administration is keen to point out that this new nuclear generation represents lower upfront costs, higher safety standards and greater flexibility—they can be used in small, remote areas that cannot support traditional reactors.

This Weeks Members Article: Let the Fracking Begin in Europe - Very Cautiously

They are assembled at a factory site and transported, ready to use, to their intended location. 

In terms of costs, these small modular reactors have a $250 million price tag, compared with as much as $9 billion for the typical large reactors currently built in the US.

What will this new nuclear generation mean for consumers’ utility bills? Well, no one can say with any certainty just yet. Whether these new reactors would translate into cheaper electricity prices has not been definitively demonstrated, though it is of course an ultimate goal.

Low natural gas prices are also a bit of a worry for the nuclear industry as a whole.

While nuclear is experiencing a bit of a revival in the US and coal languishes in its death throes, globally, coal is enjoying gains. Some 1,200 new coal plants are in the works worldwide—the bulk of them in China and India—as countries take advantage of cheap coal prices in the US. But even Europe is importing increasing amounts of coal from the US. US coal exports have reached a decade high.

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For Europe, this is troubling. As the European public puts increasing pressure on governments to abandon any dreams of fracking shale gas reserves over environmental concerns, the energy gap is being filled in by more polluting coal. This is the subject of our special investor piece today. There is good news—and bad. While the European Parliament has rejected a fracking ban proposal, this doesn’t mean we’re about to see a shale gas free-for-all. Hurdles and pitfalls abound.

Another developing trend that has caught our eye is what appears to be the declining attraction of Canada’s oil sands among US companies. A recent report put out by Peters & Co. energy investment bank of Calgary notes that there are some $17 billion in Canadian oil sands assets up for sale right now. The logic holds that US companies are trying to get out. The report points out that the $17 billion is the equivalent of assets sold throughout the past decade.

Finally, amid all the hubbub of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) dramatic report about the US overtaking Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil (oops, hydrocarbons) producer, we’ve missed something in that figure-manipulating report: A largely unnoticed blurb about California’s energy woes end with the information that the Monterrey Formation in Southern California has 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. This puts Bakken (North Dakota) to shame. It’s four times the volume of Bakken.

That's it for the news this week - i hope you enjoy our report on the shale opportunities within Europe and have a great weekend. Click here to see the report

By. James Stafford

About the author

Contributor
James Stafford
Company: Oilprice.com
Position: Editor

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Leave a comment

  • Mark Goldes on November 25 2012 said:
    New, renewable energy, technologies are being born that promise to be cost-competitive with this form of nuclear power.

    A few are Black Swans, highly improbable innovations with huge implications.

    There are strong indications that future cars and trucks will be mobile power plants, selling power to local utilities when suitably parked.

    Since the most interesting inventions reflect new science, not easily validated by Angel investors or venture capitalists, development has long been severely underfunded.

    As Global Warming becomes more ominous, stronger support to bring practical examples of such systems to market, as quickly as possible, can make a significant difference.
  • harrywr2 on November 25 2012 said:
    "Some 1,200 new coal plants are in the works worldwide—the bulk of them in China and India"

    India's 12th 5 year energy plan is here.

    http://planningcommission.nic.in/aboutus/committee/wrkgrp12/wg_power1904.pdf

    76 GW of new coal fired capacity is 'planned'. Not the really big numbers the World Resource Institute(An Advocacy Group) is bandying about.
  • Mel Tisdale on November 25 2012 said:
    There is nuclear and there is nuclear. If the design is the PWR type then I suspect that America will be missing a trick.

    The LFTR design surely offers much better opportunity to locate small modular reactors in situations that do not have the copious amounts of water that are so essential to the PWR types. And we must not forget that extreme weather such as the drought of this year's summer that will have the potential to restrict operation.

    The one major advantage that nuclear holds over wind and solar is its 24/7 reliability. But to achieve that will be difficult in drought conditions.

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