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ANS Annual Meeting – New Nuclear Build Risks via ANS Nuclear Cafe

All in attendance sat up a bit in their chairs at the session “Managing the Spectrum of Risks in the Complexities on New Build Nuclear—Call for a New Business Model to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities in the U.S. and International Nuclear Markets” held Monday afternoon at the ANS Annual Meeting. Rob Graber of Energypath Corporation stated from the podium that “90 percent of the new build nuclear plants under construction today are being built in nations that have state capitalism systems,” meaning nations like China where the government is heavily involved with programs and the line between private and public investment is blurred. This was just one of the sobering but necessary observations offered during this highly valuable session.

The first speaker of the session was Bill Linton of Linton Consulting, pointing out that using a “strategic view” analysis, stretching many years into the future, is essential in the decision making for or against new nuclear plants in the United States. He noted that while there are about 69 reactors under construction world-wide right now, with somewhere between 150 and 200 more planned, 28 of these plants under construction are in China, 11 are in Russia, and 7 are in India. “The nuclear industry really is global today,” he observed, pointing out that the nuclear fuel cycle is already a global chain business, as is the business of plant components. While other nations are building nuclear plants at high rates, the U.S. industry has experienced, at home, a slow growth rate—which led to a slow build rate, and slow development that has inevitably led to a decline in U.S. nuclear construction influence worldwide. In fact, Linton mentioned that a Nuclear Regulatory Commission employee had remarked to him at one time that the United States’ nuclear industry “is 40 years into a 60-year business,” implying that after the current generation of plants reaches their life expectancy, that’s essentially the end.

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Amir Shahkarami, chief executive officer of Exelon Nuclear Partners and senior vice president of Exelon Generation, noted that during the heyday of nuclear plant construction, on average one new nuclear plant went on line about every 17 days, and that if the nuclear builds planned for the next several decades are realized, this rate will rise from the current low figure to once every 5 days by 2035.

Shahkarami predicted that “some of the larger nuclear fleets will merge,” and that owners of single units will “have a hard ride.” He said that more of these owners will sign operating and service contracts with large fleet operators, as happened with Fort Calhoun.

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Perhaps a statement during the morning’s Opening Plenary summed it up best: Westinghouse’s Daniel Roderick said that his company “would certainly like to win the bid for every plant we can, but if we don’t, we still want to play in the game”— meaning that his company is left to manufacture such things as digital I&C equipment, as it’s doing for the South Korean–built plants in the UAE. Unless U.S. companies can provide innovative financing, as does ROSATOM in Russia, they may be left with a few large plant orders and some scraps.

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