This Week's Herman Trend Alert

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  The Herman Trend Alert

September 7, 2005

Nuclear Energy

In our Herman Trend Alert for March 28, 2001, we forecasted an emerging alternative energy source: The expansion of nuclear power plants. A variety of trends have converged to support that expansion we anticipated

Observers expect the United States’ demand for electricity will stimulate the construction of 15 new nuclear power plants over the next 15 years. The growth in the nuclear production of electricity will be significant in balancing our alternatives. Estimates are that by 2020, one-fourth of electricity in the US will come from nuclear facilities. While this number sounds like strong growth---and it is, the US will still produce less than 18 other countries do now. South Korea, for example, generates 40 percent of its power using nuclear fuel. Comfortably protected from oil blackmail, France produces 78 percent of its power from nuclear sites. The US capacity is twice that of France, but it is not used.

At 1.68 cents per kilowatt hour, nuclear production of electricity is less expensive than coal’s. Coal production cost is about 1.92 cents per kilowatt hour. Natural gas is 5.87 cents per kilowatt hour. Though there is still concern about nuclear waste disposal, resistance from environmental groups has waned, The emission-free production of nuclear fuel does help ease environmental stress. Licensing is easer now, facilitating timely development. Tax credits and loan guarantees will ease the pain of construction costs.

On the surface, the future looks good for the rebirth of the nuclear power industry, barring public fear reactions that may result from a terrorist incident. However, there is a problem that could affect the needed development of this industry.

Are we educating and training enough people to design, build, operate, and monitor 15 new nuclear plants? We have not emphasized this arena and have not produced the nuclear engineers that we’ll need. As growth in the nuclear power industry slowed, so did the encouragement for students to enter the field.

Now, this occupation will demand people with science and math skills. Our educational system has some work to do…quickly. Similar skills will be needed in energy-producing plants around the world.


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