Disasters curtail nuclear ambition

Disasters curtail nuclear ambition

September 16th, 2011 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

HOLLYWOOD, Ala. - The aftershocks from the March earthquake that crippled Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant are still rumbling across the global nuclear power industry, cutting in half the number of new reactors one of the world's biggest nuclear power companies expects will be built in the next two decades.

Luic Oursel, chief executive of the French nuclear giant Areva, said Thursday he expects a 50 percent increase in nuclear power generation around the globe by 2030.

But two years ago, Areva expected the number of reactors to double by 2030.

"It is clear that the accident at Fukushima has had a strong impact on the nuclear industry," Oursel said during a visit to TVA's Bellefonte Nuclear Power Plant that Areva will help complete. "But we consider that all of parameters which have driven this nuclear renaissance remain the same. The need for competitive and predictable power, the need to fight climate change and the need for greater energy dependence continues to grow around the world."

Except for Germany, most countries have confirmed their commitment to maintain and build more nuclear power even after the unexpected radiation leaks at the Fukushima plant following an earthquake and tsunami in Japan six months ago, Oursel said.

Largest Reactor

The Tennessee Valley Authority has hired Areva to help conduct engineering and design work to finish one of the two reactors TVA began building here in 1974. TVA suspended work at Bellefonte when power demand slowed in 1985 and began gutting the plant in 2006 when the utility briefly decided to scrap the original Bellefonte design to pursue the next generation of reactor designs.

TVA directors in August agreed to reverse that decision and finish the Unit 1 reactor by Bellefonte as soon as 2018 at a projected cost of $4.9 billion.

Areva owns the design of the Babcock & Wilcox pressurized water reactor at Bellefonte, which is bigger than any of the other B&W designed plants in operation in the United States. Although the Bellefonte design is unique, Areva Chief Operating Officer Michael Rencheck said the design changes "are evolutionary, not revolutionary" from similar but smaller reactor designs.

Despite the prolonged construction and removal of some equipment from the original plant, TVA Chief Operating Officer Bill McCollum said he is confident the plant can be safely completed as demand warrants in the next six to eight years.

French Engineering

TVA will manage the completion work but contractors such as Areva will do most of the equipment and engineering work.

Oursel said Areva, which has helped build more than a fourth of all nuclear reactors in the world, employs more than 5,000 workers in the United States, including offices in Chattanooga and Oak Ridge.

Areva will use primarily American labor for its work at Bellefonte, Oursel said.

"When complete, we are convinced that Bellefonte will be one of the most modern and safest nuclear facilities in America," he said. "It will meet or exceed all of the safety standards for natural disasters and will obviously incorporate all of the safety requirements stemming from Fukushima."

The new plant will be the first for TVA to use a digital control room rather than the analog dial and knobs used at most other nuclear power plants.