The Multinational Monitor


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The Nuclear Industry Looks Cautiously Ahead

With their political fortunes apparently on the upswing in the United States, but their economic picture still very cloudy, the leaders of the international nuclear industry met in Washington, D.C. last month in a mood best characterised as anxious optimism.

Speakers at the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF) International Conference and the combined American/European Nuclear Society International Conference virtually all agreed that nuclear power must play an increasing part in the Western world's energy mix through the rest of the century. But they were unable to ignore the depressed sales figures that throw their projections into question..

"There were no new orders and 11 cancellations in the United States [last year] ," said Dr. Ulf Lantzke, executive director of the International Energy Agency somewhat ruefully. "Plans for new units were also cancelled in Germany and Spain. If the situation is not reversed in the next few years, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve a nuclear contribution on the scale I have outlined."

On the other hand, most participants saw the election of Ronald Reagan as a large step toward reversing the situation in the U.S.-a key, of course, to the world market. Marcus Rowden, a former Nuclear Regulation Commissioner who represents General Electric on nulear issues, termed Reagan's victory and the seating of a new Congress as "a prospect which many of us view as the most hopeful sign in a long time." John Landis, senior vice-president of the Stone & Webster Engineering Corporation, remarked that "the nation is entering a new political era that will make [our] tasks somewhat easier."

Both conferences emphasized the role of fast breeder reactor (FBR) programs in a nuclear future and turned toward France for leadership. Michael Pecqueur, general administrator of the French Commissariat a 1'Energie Atomique, stressed that French "fast breeder technology is already developed full-scale." As an example, he pointed to the ongoing construction of the 1,200 megawatt Super-Phoenix fast breeder reactor, developed by a consortium of West German and French firms, noting that it will be the first full-size commercial FBR. He urged the promotion of similar technology in the United States, England and Japan.

That message was well received by Senator John McClure (R-Id.), the incoming chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. "The problem is political not technical," McClure remarked. "Sometime in the next few years," he predicted, "[FBR] demonstration programs will provide examples to the public. [Spent fuel] reprocessing will also become a mainstay here."

Some conference speakers saw development of the breeder in the developed world as a way to stimulate the stagnant light water reactor market in the less developed nations. "By hastening the commercialization of breeder reactors in some of the highly developed OECD nations," said Chauncey Starr, vice-chairman of the board of the Electric Power Research Institute - a U.S. industry group-"sufficient amounts of uranium could be released to the industrializing nations so as to allow them to sustain their nuclear growth projections at a high confidence level in the availability of their fuel supplies."

Pecqueur argued that the developed nations have an obligation to substitute nuclear power for oil as quickly as possible to free up petroleum resources for the less advanced nations. "If the wealthier developed countries do not face the responsibilities their technical and industrial capabilities impose on them, the less developed countries will suffer," he said.

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