Economy to slow nuclear power growth: NRC head

WASHINGTON, D.C. - An "excessive exuberance" for expansion in the U.S. nuclear power industry has calmed because of the global credit and economic crisis, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.

Separately, a GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy official warned that the lack of credit will slow the pace of U.S. nuclear power development.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Dale Klein said in the past two years he worried whether there would be enough NRC staff to review an avalanche of licenses for new nuclear power plants, none of which have been ordered since the 1970s.

"Today, of course, the picture looks a little different... it seems like the global economy has resolved the issue of what I referred to as an 'excessive exuberance' to be in line for the first new reactor builds," Klein said in a speech to NRC staff in Washington.

Also, in response to question from Reuters, an official with reactor builder GE Hitachi said financing will slow U.S. nuclear power development.

"Recent market developments are influencing the pace of new power plant projects in the U.S. industry-wide," said Danny Roderick, senior vice president for nuclear plant projects.

"The global financial climate is causing some U.S. customers, primarily ones that are relying on the capital markets to finance their projects, to reprioritize needs and consider options for the construction of new nuclear power plants," he added.

While U.S. nuclear power development may be slowed, a rise is still on the way, Roderick said.

"The underlying need for power has not gone away," Roderick said.

General Electric Co and Hitachi separately had been building nuclear reactors since the 1950s. They created the alliance GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy in 2007 and have worked together on boiler water reactor technology since 1967.

"GE Hitachi is well-positioned to succeed in markets globally and lead the nuclear renaissance," said Roderick.

Since 2007, the NRC has received applications for 17 new nuclear reactor operating licenses covering 28 new reactors. It expects to get a total of 22 applications for 33 new reactors by end-2010.

Last month, company sources said the field was narrowed to five U.S. companies for $18.5 billion in government-backed loans to build new nuclear power plants. One company official last month said two or three projects will get the loan help.

The cost of a new reactor ranges from $5 billion to $12 billion, depending on size, design and the site. Most new reactors are proposed to be alongside existing reactors which can hook up to existing or expanded transmission lines. This alleviates some of the resistance from local residents who are used to a nuclear power plant being nearby.

There are 104 working nuclear power reactors in the United States that provide about 20 percent of the electricity generation in the country, which is about the same as produced by natural gas power plants.

Coal-burning power plants make about half the electricity in the United States, but are also the single leading U.S. source of emissions of carbon dioxide, far and away the leading greenhouse gas.

Nuclear power emits no CO2, but its development has been thwarted in the United States since the late 1970s over safety concerns and nuclear waste storage issues.


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