The rebirth of power from nuclear energy
Nuclear power provides about 20% of the electricity generated in the U.S. - more megawatts than any other country in the world. It provides baseload power - that is, it joins coal-fired plants in providing the steady component of demand - because it is very difficult to ramp a nuclear power plant up and down to follow an afternoon peak in energy use. The Pittsburgh Region was home to the first large-scale nuclear power plant in the U.S. in 1957. The Shippensburg plant was subsequently decommissioned in 1982, but the 1652 MW Beaver facility is still operating. (West Virginia has no nuclear facilities.)
Orders to construct nuclear powered generation plants peaked in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the earliest plants coming on line in the mid-1950s. 199 nuclear plants were operating in the U.S. in 1991 - the peak year. During the 1970s and 1980s, rising construction costs and falling fossil fuel prices caused financing to dry up. Accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl brought construction worldwide to a halt.
But with the specter of global warming on the horizon, interest in nuclear generation, which directly emits no greenhouse gases or carbon dioxide, has captured the attention of both environmentalists and financiers. Its relatively inexpensive operating costs and its remarkable 90% capacity factor (operating time/outage time) make it attractive to generators as well as consumers. Westinghouse, headquartered in Pittsburgh, and its many local suppliers will be direct beneficiaries of this new interest and accompanying orders.
Unfortunately, all energy generation comes at some environmental price. The long term disposal of radioactive waste is the greatest issue in nuclear power. Heat pollution, dumped primarily into waterways, in another concern. Uranium ores must be mined and processed for fuel. But when taken in balance, nuclear is an attractive alternative.
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©2007 Janet S. Lauer Consulting. All rights reserved.