Are we prepared to explain to future generations how we allowed the dismantling of the U.S. nuclear fleet that had many more years of energy production remaining, and the falling from grace of the nuclear industry that we once dominated internationally?
What will be our legacy?
The U.S. nuclear industry is the largest and most respected in the world. However, my greatest professional fear is that my grandchildren will ask me why we did not do more to save the struggling nuclear power industry. There are real challenges, including:
- Less expensive generation options, especially natural gas
- An aging nuclear fleet with significant regulatory and economic headwinds
- Unsuccessful attempts to build new nuclear in U.S.
- The struggle for relevance in the international nuclear power export market
When the nuclear program began in 1954 with the Atomic Energy Act, the vision was to build 400 nuclear power plants in the United States. We got sidetracked. Yet, our reputation for designing and building superior nuclear plants was the best in the world. U.S. technology was bought and then copied worldwide. However, whenever any country purchased technology from us they were required to sign our 123 Agreement.
(Section 123 was originally written to encourage the use of peaceful nuclear power, protect nuclear technologies, discourage nuclear proliferation, and encourage international cooperation. In its day, it seemed necessary and appropriate. Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, as amended.)
Section 123 remains, yet new-build countries will purchase nuclear technology elsewhere instead of signing a US 123 Agreement.
Like many in the nuclear industry, I worked in government on the other side of nuclear in my early years. Professionals who also worked in government prior to private industry understand the reluctance to call attention to nuclear – by force of habit. However, saving the United States’ industrial nuclear energy program is not generally classified. And changing our industry will take reaching beyond our professionally trained, largely conservative comfort zones.
What is the future of U.S. nuclear energy? What is that impact internationally? What will you tell your grandchildren you did to ensure its success in the U.S. and our influence internationally?
Professionally, the question we at Goodnight Consulting often ask our industry leaders is “what keeps you up at night?” I believe that our peaceful nuclear energy program and the U.S. impact in the world is the most important issue of our day as countries around the world seek to buy, build, and operate nuclear power in their own countries. This issue and what we can do to ensure that the United States remains relevant in the countries seeking new build is what keeps me up at night. The rippling impacts are enormous.
I will tell you what we have seen as we have traveled the world, what we have done in the industry to help the U.S. market at home and throughout the world by Bringing the Nuclear World Together, and finally provide some suggestions on what you can do.