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Energy in Transition, 1985-2010: Final Report of the Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems
These and related issues are addressed in this chapter. We first present a summary statement and principal conclusions. The balance of the chapter takes up these items in detail.†
Nuclear power contributes to diversity in the sources of energy on which the United States can draw. In 1978, 66 light water reactors (LWR’s) supplied close to 13 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. In some regions of the country, the share of electricity generated by nuclear power exceeded 40 percent. The distribution of nuclear plants is illustrated in Figure 5–1. The generating capacity of nuclear power plants totals 52 gigawatts (electric) (GWe).1
Of the energy sources that can be used to generate large amounts of electricity, only coal and nuclear power offer reasonably assured ability to support significant expansion in electrical generating capacity over the next few decades. The costs of electricity produced from coal and nuclear power are roughly comparable and depend on plant location and financing conditions. Nevertheless, new orders for nuclear power plants were offset by cancellations of previous orders the past 3 years, and this will create a pause in the expansion of nuclear capacity after 1985 unless the licensing of nuclear plants is accelerated and their construction time reduced. The nuclear industry in the United States can produce at least 500 GWe of nuclear generating capacity for installation by the year 2000, and more than 750 GWe by 2010. The actual rate at which this capability will be called upon depends on several factors.
First, there is the question what the demand for electricity will be. The Supply and Delivery Panel evaluated a number of projections and concluded that an annual average growth rate of 4 percent to the year 2010 represents a reasonable figure for planning the growth of electrical capacity.2 This would lead to a total demand for just under 2000 GWe of capacity in 2010, if the total system’s capacity factor is unchanged. In the scenario of highest energy consumption considered by CONAES (assuming constant real prices and 3 percent annual average rate of growth in gross national product (GNP)), the required electrical capacity falls below 1500 GWe in 2010. Assuming a higher rate of electrification, the required capacity might be about 1750 GWe in 2010. (See chapter 11.) Although these projected rates fall below the historical rate of growth, they may still