Nuclear could be the answer in next energy crisis

MISSOURI - Although the United States always has been No. 1 in technological innovation, we are told that our nation's lead is slipping. But you never would know it here in Missouri, where a team of engineers and technicians at the Callaway nuclear plant has come up with an original way to use plastic piping for reactor cooling.

Heralded by experts as a safe and cost-effective advance in plant performance, the use of polyethylene piping in cooling water systems is expected to benefit nuclear power throughout the world.

Unlike carbon steel piping, high-density polyethylene piping is not subject to corrosion and fouling. It is less costly to install and maintain. And it doesn't have to be replaced, reducing the amount of down time for regularly scheduled maintenance and repairs at nuclear plants.

AmerenUE's nuclear plant in Callaway County supplies about 10 percent of Missouri's electricity. Among the most efficient nuclear plants in the United States, over the past three years Callaway has posted one of the highest capacity factors, generating electricity more than 90 percent of the time.

Finding ways to improve the performance of nuclear plants is a prime focus of engineers and technicians at the nation's nuclear plants as utilities gear up to build new reactors in the United States to meet projected growth in the need for electricity. Using a healthy mix of solar, wind, nuclear power and other forms of cutting-edge energy technologies will help curb our dependence on fossil fuels while reducing emissions of gases that contribute to global warming.

The House of Representatives recently passed a climate change bill that calls for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. Meeting that target would require the addition of 45 nuclear plants by 2030, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, which does research for the utility industry. But utilities have applied for licenses to construct and operate only half that number even though experts say we can and should build more.

For that to happen, however, Congress will need to provide additional loan guarantees to cover the high capital cost of building new plants. Banks won't approve loans for large power plants unless they are guaranteed by the federal government. Now, the amount of money Congress has authorized for loan guarantees would cover only four or five nuclear plants. Although the House bill would establish a bank to provide financial backing for clean-energy technologies, it would limit nuclear power's share of the loan guarantees to 30 percent. The Senate needs to drop that arbitrary limit.

A recent poll shows that 81 percent of Americans favor increased use of nuclear power, with support heaviest in communities that are near existing nuclear plants. A big reason for this is that new nuclear plants provide well-paying jobs for plant construction and permanent jobs.

Establishing a clean-energy bank to provide federal incentives for nuclear plant construction is our best hope to get the task done in an orderly way. The opportunity to increase the use of nuclear power, a safe and reliable source of energy using new advances in technology, is too sensible to ignore.


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