Boost for nuclear power

Calvert Cliffs: Relicensing of Maryland units encourages recovery of nuclear industry.

March 27, 2000

FEDERAL approval of a 20-year license extension for the Calvert Cliffs twin-reactor power plant sets Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. on a course for expanded use of nuclear energy in the next three decades. The new licenses expire in 2034 and 2036.

The Baltimore company is poised to acquire other nuclear facilities and has an active consulting firm to assist other nuclear power companies in getting license extensions from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

BGE is the first to receive the extensions, which is seen as a step toward recovery of the stagnant nuclear energy industry. Nearly half the nation's 103 nuclear plants will see their 40-year NRC licenses expire over the next 15 years.

Prices for nuclear plants have plummeted, amid concerns about relicensing, disposal of nuclear waste and escalating maintenance costs. Some firms are snapping up these power plants at deeply discounted prices; six have been sold. Constellation Energy, BGE's parent company, wants to enter that bidding competition when the Maryland electric market is deregulated July 1.

Several factors encourage a continuing role for nuclear power. Last year, the nation's reactors produced a record 720 billion kilowatt-hours, signifying enhanced reliability and a more economical means of power than fossil-fuel generators.

A preliminary environmental impact study by the Department of Energy recently concluded that spent radioactive fuel can be safely contained long-term in underground storage. That supports a decision next year on using Yucca Mountain, Nevada, to hold the nuclear plant waste that is now stored on reactor sites in 33 states, including Maryland.

Another factor is the push to reduce fossil-fuel emissions. Nuclear plants have virtually no pollutant gases.

The Constellation group aims for a diversity of power supplies, not just nuclear facilities. It's acquiring coal and hydroelectric power facilities and plans to buy power from other companies to resell. But the Calvert Cliffs units, which supply 40 percent of the metro region's electricity, are a key component of the company's deregulation plan and of the recovery of the U.S. nuclear industry.

Pub Date: 3/27/00

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