06-27-2011, 09:00 PM
Though nuclear power is sometimes touted as a "domestic" energy resource that can displace reliance on imported fuels and stimulate the economy, about 80 percent of U.S. nuclear fuel is imported. . . . Most major nuclear plant components will be manufactured by overseas corporations such as France's AREVA and Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. . . . Cost estimates for new nuclear plants have skyrocketed well above many other low-carbon alternatives. The current average estimate of $9 billion per plant would lead to large rate increases and threaten the financial viability of many companies. Along with numerous subsidies, Congress has already authorized $18.5 billion in loan guarantees for builders of new nuclear plants, but the industry is demanding in excess of $100 billion more. . . . The first generation of nuclear plants cost ratepayers and taxpayers more than $300 billion; current industry proposals could put taxpayers and ratepayers at risk for much more. . . . The nuclear infrastructure has been in decline for two to three decades and would need to be rebuilt to accommodate any expansion. But there are only half as many nuclear engineering programs at U.S. colleges as there were in the mid-1970s, and only 80 companies are qualified to produce nuclear-grade materials -- down from 400 two decades ago. Most importantly, only two manufacturing facilities in the world are capable of making heavy components such as reactor pressure vessels. Thus, the industry can produce only an average of 12 plants per year globally until about 2030, increasing to 54 plants per year between 2030 and 2050. This makes it unlikely that more than a few plants per year could be installed in the United States through 2030 even under the most optimistic scenario. Expanding the global nuclear industry by 1,000 to 1,500 new 1,000 MW plants (300 of which have been suggested for the United States) would require the construction of 11 to 22 additional uranium enrichment facilities, as well as a new Yucca Mountain-sized waste repository every four years.