NUCLEAR FUELED POWER PLANT DEVELOPMENT PAST AND PRESENT TRENDS

The development of nuclear-fueled steam-electric plants underwent substantial change in the 1970s.At the beginning of the decade, orders for nuclear-fueled plants were increasing to a peak of 38 per year.

Following the oil crisis of 1973 to 1974, changes in the economy began to affect the cost of, and consequently the demand for, electric power. Opposition to the use of nuclear energy for electric power production increased; litigation was frequently employed.

Near the end of the decade, sociopolitical aspects of nuclear-fueled plants became as involved and time-consuming as the technical aspects. In order to participate effectively in the design, construction, and operation of nuclearfueled plants, one must be familiar with the energy perspective; the concerns about the use of nuclear energy; and the functions of advocates, intervenors, and regulators.

With the maturity of the nuclear-fueled plants, more emphasis was placed on project management (Pederson 1978). Siting of the plants became a major task (Winter and Conner 1978). Because of the reduced demand for electric power, the increased cost of money, and the difficulty of resolving the objections raised, orders for nuclear-fueled plants began to decrease sharply after the middle of the decade.

Some orders were canceled. Then in March 1979, a major accident occurred at the Three Mile Island plant, causing serious damage to the plant. This event raised questions about the operation of nuclear fueled plants and a review of the value of nuclear energy (Rubenstein 1979).

At the end of the decade, orders for new nuclear-fueled plants had been reduced to zero and a sizable number of plant orders had been canceled.

The beginning of the decade of the 1980s saw reinforcement of the need for commercial use of nuclear energy (Greenhalgh 1980), but also heralded changes in the safety, control, and maintenance systems. In the electrical area, the most notable changes were the redesign of control rooms and stations and the increased use of computers in more sophisticated safety systems (Hanes et al. 1982).

The study of incidents and malfunctions by means of computers has provided another means to inform and guide operators and to evaluate possible trouble spots (Kaplan 1983). The availability and capability of the microprocessor has provided new ways to improve the safety and performance of
plant instrumentation, control, and safety systems.

With fewer new nuclear plants being built worldwide than originally anticipated, much attention has been on methods to achieve “life extension” of present plants (retrofitting to allow operation beyond the traditional 20-year life cited for power plants).

At the same time, procedures for decontamination and decommissioning of plants being shut down are being refined. The NRC is simultaneously developing streamlined procedures for licensing new plants, with the anticipation that utilities may turn to nuclear energy in the future in the form of the new passive-safe type reactors.

This effort, the deregulation of the utility industry in the United States, plus the possible emphasis on nuclear energy as a way to meet goals for reduction of CO2 greenhouse gases (Schmidt 1998), could have a profound effect on the evolution of the nuclear industry.

There has been a growing belief in recent years that a ‘rebirth” of nuclear energy has begun. This has been driven by the rapid increase in oil process coupled with a desire by countries like the U.S. To achieve energy independence, while future energy needs will be met by a combination of conservation plus use of a wide range of energy sources (solar, wind, bio renewable energy sources).

There is a growing opinion that nuclear is needed to fill the future needs for central plant energy production. The new “Generation-IV” reactor concepts being developed by DOE offer many attractive features to fit into this need, including competitive costs, passive safety, improved efficiency, reduced maintenance down time and costs, and they also eliminate greenhouse gas emission. The main obstacle remaining is gaining of public acceptance of radioactive waste disposal techniques.

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