Reactor Deployment Since the Mids

The picture changed abruptly in the mid-1970s. In contrast with the 4-year period from 1971 to 1974, when 129 reactors had been ordered, only 13 reactors were ordered during 1975-1978. After 1978, new orders ceased entirely and all reactors ordered after 1973 have been canceled. The de facto moratorium on commercial reactor orders has continued in subsequent years, and at the time of this writing (early 2004), no new orders are in clear prospect.

A major factor in this change was a sharp drop in the growth in electricity demand, as reflected in Figure 1.1. The growth in electricity consumption averaged over 7% per year from 1953 to 1973—a doubling time of under 10 years. This growth ended in 1974, with an actual drop of 0.4% that year, precipitated by the economic shock of OPEC's oil embargo in late 1973. Af

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010


Fig. 2.1. Cumulative history of nuclear reactor orders in the United States, 19532001, including cancellations and shutdowns. (Data from Ref. [18], p. 253.)

ter 1974, with a reduced rate of economic growth and a new emphasis on conservation, electricity sales grew at a much slower rate than in preceding decades, averaging about 2.7% per year during 1975-2000. Utilities that had previously placed orders for generating facilities found themselves facing a surplus of planned capacity. A first response was to stop plans for expansion.

Nuclear power was particularly impacted by the lessening demand for electricity, because it was additionally confronted by growing opposition and by increasing costs of reactor construction. These factors all worked to slow nuclear deployment after 1974, although reactors continued to go on line until the Three Mile Island accident in March 1979. The accident led to a 1-year hiatus, followed by a gradual resumption of deployment of reactors that were already in the pipeline. Overall, 51 new reactors have been put into commercial operation since 1979. The last of these was in 1996—the Watts Bar I reactor operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

At the end of 2003, there were 104 operating reactors in the United States with a net capacity of 98 GWe.14 All are light water reactors. Total net generation in 2002 was 772 billion kilowatt-hours, or, in alternative units, 88 gigawatt-years (GWyr) where 1 gigawatt-year = 8.76 x 109 kWh [20]. The fraction of electricity provided by nuclear power has risen to about 20% in recent years. Until 1990, the driving force in the increased nuclear output was the addition of new reactors. Since 1990, there has been little change in nuclear capacity, with 7 new reactors having gone into operation and 11 reactors (in general smaller) shut down. Nonetheless, there was an increase of 34% in total nuclear generation due to improved operation of existing reactors (see Section 2.4.2).

Three additional reactors, with capacities of roughly 1200 MWe each, are in something of a state of limbo [4]. They are each listed as more than 50% completed, but construction has been halted for many years, and as of mid-2003, there were no announced plans to resume construction.15 They all belong to the TVA, which has six licensed reactors, including Browns Ferry 1.

No further nuclear reactors are on the immediate horizon in the United States, and for the time being, nuclear power in the United States is at a plateau. However, the federal government in recent years has looked with more favor on nuclear power. The U.S. Department of Energy in 1998, acting upon the recommendation of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), launched a Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) designed to stimulate innovative thinking on topics such as:

14 One of these reactors, the 1065-MWe Browns Ferry 1 reactor, operated by the TVA, was shut down in 1985 along with four other TVA reactors that have since gone back into service. The TVA Board voted in May 2002 to restart Browns Ferry 1 [19]. Major changes are to be made in the reactor building and contents, and the restart will not occur for several years. (During the shutdown period, Browns Ferry 1 has been included in most U.S. government compilations as an "operating reactor" because it has an operating license.)

15 The three reactors are Bellefonte 1 & 2 and Watts Bar 2.

proliferation-resistant reactors or fuel cycles; new reactor designs with higher efficiency, lower cost, and improved safety to compete in the global market; low-power units for use in developing countries; and new techniques for on-site and surface storage and for permanent disposal of nuclear waste. [21, p. 5-13]

The DOE in 1998 also established the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) to advise on nuclear technology programs. The work of NERI has led to a number of imaginative proposals for new reactors, and NERAC has developed plans to encourage the deployment of new reactors by 2010 as well as the development of advanced designs for later deployment. These initiatives are discussed further in Chapter 16.

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