Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If France can do it, by goodness, we can do it.

Don’t recognize that last inspirational maxim? That’s what Fresno, Calif., Utility Commission Chairman John Hutson said when he suggested the city consider building a nuclear power plant. According to an article in the Fresno Bee this summer, Hutson came up with the idea as a way to help the city solve its utility’s money problems.

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Fresno, the sixth-largest city in California, is located smack dab in the middle of the state. The city doesn’t actually run an electric utility, just water, wastewater and sewer, but Hutson envisions a small nuclear plant, maybe 400 or 600 MW, located at the city’s wastewater treatment facility that would make lots of money selling electricity to PG&E and other utilities.

Too bad there’s a moratorium on building new nuclear plants in California. Anyway…..

Fresno’s in pretty good company with its nuclear plant idea. The Nuclear Energy Institute reports that 12 energy companies intend to file license applications for more than 18 new reactors by 2009; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission figures 27 reactors are under consideration. NuStart Energy Development LLC, a consortium of companies including Southern Co., has two 1,100 MW reactors in mind. UniStar Nuclear, Constellation Energy and AREVA’s partnership, has plans for a whole fleet of nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power plant construction is notorious for astronomical cost over-runs and unmet deadlines. Builders of the new generation of plants hope to improve the bottomline by standardizing nuclear technology. Westinghouse, for instance, says its AP1000 has a site construction schedule of 36 months from first concrete to fuel loading. Duke Power has contracted with Enercon Services, Inc., a Tulsa-based energy consulting company, to work through the NRC licensing process with just such a plant in mind.

But what to do with nuclear waste is still The Big Problem. “It ought to be pretty clear to everybody that we aren’t going to be putting spent fuel rods in Yucca Mountain,” said Sen. Pete Domenici, head of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in May. “There will be a Yucca Mountain, but it will be a different Yucca Mountain than we’ve been talking about.” According to Domenici’s calculations, in four years there will be more accumulated nuclear waste than the facility can hold anyway, so the country will have to begin to seriously consider recycling spent nuclear fuel if the next generation of nuclear power plants is to be built. Unfortunately, those advanced nuclear fuel processing and recycling technologies aren’t ready for implementation.

The good news is that much of the public’s resistance to nuclear power has evaporated-as Fresno’s Hutson says, “Those days of Chernobyl and stuff are things of the past”-so that battle doesn’t have to be fought as fiercely, and the Energy Bill offers tax credits and other incentives for the first six new reactors, so financing should be easier to manage. It’s pretty clear that soon, somewhere in the United States, a shovel will break ground for construction of the first new nuclear power plant since the ’70s.

Just probably not in Fresno.

Nancy Spring, Managing Editor

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