Nuclear Energy as Part of Delaware’s Energy Future

A single third generation nuclear reactor could meet Delaware’s electricity generation shortfall with clean, reliable, affordable power for the next sixty years. New modular designs offer improved safety, faster construction, and lower initial cost than older power plant designs. Over 100 such plants, many to be built by U. S. companies, are planned worldwide. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in the process of pre-approving several designs that would need no additional licensing. Delaware could benefit from selecting one or more 1000 to 2000 acre sites for classification as pre-approved Nuclear Energy Parks. A typical plant would employee several thousand construction workers for up to five years and would lead to a thousand permanent direct and indirect jobs.

As recently as 1995 electric generation plants in Delaware provided 82% of our electric power needs. Expanded demand and plant closings have dropped this to below 40%. The importation of power from out of state means we have exported good jobs but has also added to electric grid congestion. New electricity pricing models add premiums for this congestion and contribute to Delaware manufacturing companies paying 50% more for electricity than the average state. These premiums make it difficult to expand manufacturing in the state.

One modular nuclear plant, such as the Westinghouse AP1000 shown below, would bring the state back to providing 100% of its 2014 expected demand. The design shown would have a 6 acre footprint excluding cooling, would generate 9000 Gigawatt-hours a year, and might cost $3 or 4 billion to build. It would operate 91% of the time and has a design life of sixty years. The plant would emit no carbon dioxide or air pollution. The plant might produce electricity for as low as 3.5 cents/kilowatt-hour over the life of the plant, one tenth the cost of a solar farm. About one third of Delaware’s electric power comes from nuclear plants now.

Third generation plants store emergency coolant in gravity fed containers to allow flooding of the core without pumps or operator involvement in the case of an unexpected shutdown. They also have gravity fed coolant and natural ventilation features to cool the containment vessel. The operator control room is isolated and hardened to allow safe operation in an emergency. Results of the NRC Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) show a very low core damage frequency (CDF) that is 1/100 of the CDF of currently operating plants and 1/20 of the maximum CDF deemed acceptable for new, advanced reactor designs. The plant has secure storage for spent fuel rods. A fee is paid to the NRC on every kilowatt-hour produced by nuclear plants for the eventual disposal of nuclear waste and this raises $750 million a year. By law, the federal government has responsibility for waste storage. The Yucca Mountain waste facility in Nevada is complete and a $25 billion waste disposal fund awaits use (interest adds $1 billion a year to the fund).

David T. Stevenson, Director
Center for Energy Competitiveness
Caesar Rodney Institute

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