The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Industry

January 20, 2015 by Rita Bowser

New nuclear is moving forward; the four AP1000® nuclear power plants currently being built in the U.S. attest to that fact. Even though gas prices and other market influencers have slowed nuclear new build progression in general – there is still a very promising future for the U.S. nuclear industry and it is invigorating to be a part of it. Nuclear energy is a sustainable source of clean energy that also addresses the need for energy security to support the recovering economy. You cannot have one without the other.

The growing world nuclear fleet, with more than 430 nuclear reactors and 70 more in some phase of project development and construction, highlights the importance of nuclear energy as part of a diverse energy mix, secure energy supply and clean energy resource. So much of the world would not be expanding nuclear if these important components to addressing growing energy needs were not fulfilled by this technology.

The general public and lawmakers play a big role in the future of current plant operations and new plant construction. There is a need for better understanding that the future of the nuclear industry is not only important to the industry, it is important to us as citizens and as competitors in the global market. Westinghouse has increased our commitment to public awareness. In the past, we focused our messages on products and technologies: We now discuss clean air, sustainability, safety and energy security early in our messaging and use social media to expand our outreach. Educating the public and lawmakers on the safety and economic benefits of nuclear energy requires engagement from our suppliers as well. Thinking outside of the box, and thinking about who needs more information to be better informed has made a difference.

Equally important is continuing work toward levelling the playing field in the market. Within the U.S., subsidies across electricity production have varied widely, and that has put nuclear energy, among other clean energy providers, at a real disadvantage. The advantages of nuclear energy must be weighted as heavily as other generating sources.

Of course, advanced nuclear technologies are imperative to the future of the U.S. nuclear industry. Westinghouse developed the standardized, modular and passive safety power plant technology a couple of decades ago using a collaborative approach with utilities to incorporate their hands-on plant experience. These concerted improvements are now embodied in the AP1000 plants under construction today. That's invaluable, because by leveraging both the manufacturer's and operators' experiences, we were able to design in improvements that will serve us all well in the long term.

Standardization makes for safer operations, quicker licensing, lower operations and maintenance costs, even lower back-end costs for waste management and decontamination and decommissioning costs. There are a lot of advantages to that, and to the more modern modularity of construction.

The future of the nuclear industry and of nuclear energy as a continuing source of safe, stable and clean energy for electricity production in the United States and beyond rely on these many factors put together. We will continue to collaborate, educate and innovate. This is how we can best contribute to a positive energy future.

To learn more about the future of the U.S. nuclear industry, and what Rita, and others think about how to support a positive contribution and outcome for nuclear energy, read the executive roundtable feature article published in Nuclear Power International Magazine.  

Rita Bowser
Vice President, New Build Project Advancement, Westinghouse Electric Company