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The Changing Climate for Nuclear Power in the United States

1846th Stated Meeting - Cambridge
Richard A. Meserve (US Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
With an introduction by Dr. Ernest Moniz (MIT)
April 11, 2001

Richard Meserve, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), addressed the Academy's 1846th Stated Meeting and gave an overview of how economic deregulation, reinforced by the problems in California, is radically altering the climate for nuclear power. With capital costs largely amortized, and with relatively low operating costs, existing nuclear plants—which already supply 20 percent of the nation's electricity—are seen as increasingly valuable. Dr. Meserve reviewed the challenges the revived interest in nuclear power poses for the NRC.

With some saying that as many as 80 percent of the nation's 103 nuclear plants are likely to seek renewal of operating licenses, Dr. Meserve noted that the NRC has improved its capacity to perform high-quality, technically sound reviews in a timely fashion. As interest in new reactor construction grows, the commission has put in place a more efficient set of procedures to certify proposed designs, backed by a strengthened research program to ensure the safety of new concepts. The NRC has also embarked on a far-reaching program to overhaul its oversight of nuclear plants through the adoption of "risk-informed regulation." Drawing on insights gained from four decades of operating experience and from advances in "probabilistic risk assessment," the NRC's new framework focuses increased regulatory and licensee attention on those issues that pose the greatest risks to safety.

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