Next-Generation Nuclear Power; January 2002; Scientific American Magazine; by James A. Lake, Ralph G. Bennett and John F. Kotek. Sidebar by the staff editors; 10 Page(s)
Rising electricity prices and last summer's rolling blackouts in California have focused fresh attention on nuclear power's key role in keeping America's lights on. Today 103 nuclear plants crank out a fifth of the nation's total electrical output. And despite residual public misgivings over Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the industry has learned its lessons and established a solid safety record during the past decade. Meanwhile the efficiency and reliability of nuclear plants have climbed to record levels. Now with the ongoing debate about reducing greenhouse gases to avoid the potential onset of global warming, more people are recognizing that nuclear reactors produce electricity without discharging into the air carbon dioxide or pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and smog-causing sulfur compounds. The world demand for energy is projected to rise by about 50 percent by 2030 and to nearly double by 2050. Clearly, the time seems right to reconsider the future of nuclear power [see "The Case for Nuclear Power," on page 76].
No new nuclear plant has been ordered in the U.S. since 1978, nor has a plant been finished since 1995. Resumption of large-scale nuclear plant construction requires that challenging questions be addressed regarding the achievement of economic viability, improved operating safety, efficient waste management and resource utilization, as well as weapons nonproliferation, all of which are influenced by the design of the nuclear reactor system that is chosen.