New nukes?

New nukes? – Bytes of Note

Thomas M. Parris

The United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. According to the Energy Information Administration, U.S. nuclear power plants generated a record 780.2 billion net kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2002, accounting for 20 percent of overall electricity production ( Worldwide, almost 17 percent of all electricity was produced by nuclear power plants in 2000 ( While no new nuclear power plants have been ordered in the United States since 1978, construction has continued on plants purchased before then. More than 40 plants have been completed since 1980 (

This controversial technology has raised numerous concerns, including the disposal of spent nuclear fuel, nuclear weapons proliferation, safe operation of plants, and high costs relative to other fuels. But according to a 1997 report issued by the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, “given the projected growth in global energy demand as developing nations industrialize, and given the desirability of stabilizing and reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions, it is important to establish fission energy as a widely viable and expandable option if this is at all possible” ( The National Energy Policy Development Group echoed this sentiment in 2001, stating “this power source, which causes no greenhouse gas emissions, can play an expanding part in our energy future” (

U.S. policy on nuclear power is moving forward on two fronts. The first, embodied in the Nuclear Power 2010 program, “is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop advanced nuclear plant technologies, and demonstrate new regulatory processes leading to a private sector decision by 2005 to order new nuclear power plants for deployment in the United States in the 2010 timeframe” ( Toward this end, the program published a two-volume “road map” in 2001 ( and

The second track has been to advance a new generation of nuclear power technologies–known as Generation IV–with better economics, safety, reliability, and sustainability, and the potential to be deployed commercially by 2030 ( Seven major nuclear power-producing countries have joined this effort under the umbrella of the Generation IV International Forum ( This group has published a technology road map that focuses on six candidate reactor system designs ( Gail H. Marcus, principal deputy director of the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science, and Technology in the U.S. Department of Energy, provides a concise overview of both programs at Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have completed an independent assessment of the future of nuclear power (

Not suprisingly, there are critics of major new government investments in nuclear power research and development. Such critics include the Natural Resources Defense Council (, Public Citizen (, and Green Scissors (

THOMAS M. PARRIS is a research scientist at and executive director of the Boston office of ISCIENCES, LLC. Material for Bytes of Note should be directed to him at ISCIENCES, LLC, 685 Centre Street, Suite 207, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, or

COPYRIGHT 2003 Heldref Publications

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group