One of the biggest controversies in the environmental community is the topic of nuclear power. Some see it as the best short-term hope for clean, affordable alternative energy. Others are fearful of the waste that is associated with older reactor designs. Despite modern reactor designs recycling much of the spent fuel and being built with safer designs, these fears remain.
The net result is that despite a couple pending applications, the U.S. is stuck with aging nuclear reactions, which indeed play to critics worst fears -- lacking much of the safety and waste recycling of modern designs.
Elsewhere, though, times are kind to the nuclear industry. China, in particular is looking to join France and Japan in providing a large portion of its power from nuclear energy. The nation, which currently relies heavily on coal power, is including nuclear development in a diverse program which also includes massive solar and wind power growth.
Concrete was just poured at the site of a new reactor in Sanmen, China, built by the Westinghouse Electric Company, The Shaw Group Inc., China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation, and the Sanmen Nuclear Power Company of China National Nuclear Corporation. The reactor will be the first of four 1,100 MWe reactors built.
The new reactor, the Westinghouse AP1000, is an extremely advanced design which focuses on modularity and automation, as well as safety and optimum fuel use. It is classed as a Generation III+ reactor and is the only such reactor to receive Design Certification from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
In total, the four reactor project will cost the nation approximately $8B USD. However, it will put them in a position of nuclear leadership, with no other nation currently employing this reactor design, the latest from Westinghouse. Westinghouse President and CEO Aris Candris states, "Completion of concrete pour is a major milestone that visibly moves the Sanmen project from the design and discussion stage to the construction stage. More importantly, by getting this project underway on schedule, we are further helping to ensure that baseload electricity generation will begin at this plant as intended in 2013."
Some Chinese feel less than comfortable about the new reactor, though, stating that their country's people are being used as test rats for unproven designs (source in Chinese). Regardless, construction appears geared to continue as planned.
The U.S., despite strong opposition, in coming years may roll out an even more advanced reactor design, with Georgia Power Company reaching an agreement late last year to construct two Revision 16 reactors in Vogtle, Georgia. There are, in total, twelve such pending Combined Construction and Operating Licenses (COLs) filed for, though the go ahead from government regulators still remains. The proposed plans may have to survive heavy legal pressure from anti-nuclear groups if they hope to advance. Thus the status of the U.S.'s nuclear future remains significantly more questionable of that of China.