New Year Reflections
As we ring in the New Year, it is a good time to reflect on what has happened during the past year, and what we might expect in the year ahead.
In summary, the past year has been an eventful one, with some bad news, but much promising news--particularly from a global perspective.
On the negative side, the worst news domestically was the early retirement of several operating nuclear power plants due to a combination of unusual maintenance issues and an electricity market that, from my perspective, makes less and less sense the more I see it in action.
Internationally, South Korea continued to struggle with the effects of the revelation of the "counterfeit parts" scandal that began in late 2012, finding more fake certificates for components in their nuclear power plants as the year wore on. At this point, they seem to have addressed the problem, but it resulted in a rough year for the industry.
In Japan, the aftermath of the Fukushima accident continues to haunt the country, with the shutdown of the country's operating plants resulting in significant increases in pollution and a severe impact on the national economy. Elsewhere, Germany remains committed to its shutdown plant for its nuclear reactors, despite increasing evidence of the negative impacts that are being seen from the plants that were shut down shortly after Fukushima.
On the plus side, the overall trend for the growth of nuclear power around the world is positive, with a very aggressive construction schedule in China, and ongoing construction projects or plans in a number of other countries. In the United States, several construction projects continue to be active, and good progress was made during the past year.
Another positive sign is the continued interest in advanced designs, particularly Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that could expand the market for nuclear power in a number of directions--to smaller grids and smaller markets, for remote applications, and in places where the water supply is limited. The interest, which has been building for several years, passed a milestone in 2013 with awards from the Department of Energy for two light water designs.
Interest also continues on non-light water designs that would offer many of the same benefits as light-water SMRs, plus additional benefits, such as suitability for high-temperature industrial applications.
Looking to the future, the picture continues to be mixed. The strong new-build agendas in several countries bode well for the future of nuclear power on a global scale. In the United States, however, the current low prices of natural gas continue to warp the market. On the positive side, more and more people, including some prominent environmentalists, are stating publicly that nuclear power needs to be a part of the energy mix. While I don't have a crystal ball, overall, it seems that there is growing optimism for the future.
My best wishes to all for a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!