There's a lot of people there who want electricity
The US nuclear industry wants to build plants everywhere. Consider the latest news from New Dehli where a delegation of 38 US nuclear firms met with their counterparts from India this week. The goal is to build nuclear plants there to meet that country's enormous demand for electricity.
India has a population of over one billion people and is expected to top 1.6 billion people by 2050 exceeding population estimates for China by that time. By comparison population in the US will grow from about 300 million to about 420 million. While the US economy is one of the most energy intensive in the world, the total demand for electricity in China and India will outclass any other nation for the rest of the 21st century. If you are in the business of building 1,000 Mw or bigger nuclear power plants to make electricity, these are the countries where you want to be selling your expertise.
The Hindustan Times reports that Tim Richards, an executive for General Electric, told a conference on Indo-US nuclear cooperation this week, "We know India's need for electric power." He added there are "huge opportunities" in civilian nuclear cooperation between India and the US. No kidding.
At the same time these meetings were occurring in India, other US nuclear energy executives cautioned their firms can't spread themselves too thin trying to build plants in the US and India. USEC CEO John Welch told an industry trade group,
"In negotiating such agreements, we must remember that the presence of a vibrant US nuclear energy manufacturing and supply infrastructure is essential if we are to successfully influence nuclear energy and non-proliferation policies in other countries."
Readers are reminded that USEC would like to sell uranium fuel for nuclear reactors to plants in the US. According to the firm's investor relations web page,
USEC Inc. (NYSE:USU) is a leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. USEC operates the only uranium enrichment facility in the United States and supplies more than half of the U.S. market and more than a quarter of the world market. Annual revenues are about $1.6 billion.
It is no surprise that USEC apparently isn't interested in waiting for the rest of the 21st century to sell nuclear fuel to reactor companies. However, others are chasing this market. Companies represented at the meeting in New Dehli included ATK, ConverDyn, EnergySolutions, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Westinghouse. Later this month Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is scheduled to speak at a March 20-21 conference in New Delhi sponsored by the U.S. Energy Association about investment opportunities in the South Asian power markets.
While the US delegation was exploring new business opportunities abroad, at the same time an industry trade group meeting in Washington, DC, told the Department of Energy the federal government must implement loan guarantees with favorable terms for construction of new nuclear plants. Up to $9 billion in loan guarantees are on the table.
However, at a House Appropriations Committee hearing this week, Energy secretary Samuel Bodman got a skeptical reception to his request for the $9 billion in loan guarantees. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Oh) wanted to know why the government was putting all its loan eggs in one energy basket. He said, "My concern is that loan guarantees are too focused on the nuclear industry and not on some of these emerging technologies." This is a common refrain from House Democrats who are now in charge there. They want more money poured into alternative energy sources like solar, wind, and, of course, ethanol, which generates more votes than energy in farm states.
While the fate of the loan guarantees was hung up in Congress, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a permit for a new nuclear plant to Exelon Corp in terms of location, but did not approve construction of a specific reactor. The permit does not mean Exelon can build a new reactor at the site of its existing 1,043-megawatt Clinton Power Station, about 160 miles southwest of Chicago. What NRC approved is an "early site permit" for a new reactor at the Clinton site, an environmental review that clears the site for use as a nuclear reactor for 20 years. Exelon still has to go through the lengthy and expensive process of applying for a construction and operating license for a new reactor if it decides to build one.
The NRC is expected to make a similar decision in the next few weeks on an Entergy Corp request for an additional reactor at its Grand Gulf site in Mississippi.
All this activity has finally captured some interest in California which has a law on the books that bans new construction of nuclear plants. Assemblyman Chuck DeVore introduced legislation that would repeal the ban citing the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. However, the big electricity producers in California said they aren't ready to go to the public with a request to build nuclear plants.
"One of them asked me not to do it," DeVore said. "They said 'We're not ready for that fight yet.' I think the time is right. I don't see how we make our numbers (reducing greenhouse gases) without nuclear being a sizeable component."
California's big three investor-owned utilities are Pacific Gas & Electric Co., a subsidiary of PG&E Corp., Southern California Edison, a subsidiary of Edison International, and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., a subsidiary of Sempra Energy.
PG&E CEO Peter Darbee said his company would welcome a partner to invest in nuclear generation outside of California. Maybe he should try India?