- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

AECL Technologies yesterday announced its plans to introduce a new nuclear reactor into the U.S. market that company representatives say is economical enough to rival natural gas as a source of power.
The Ontario, Canada-based company is in the process of licensing its ACR-700 reactor which AECL says is cheaper and faster than most U.S. reactors in the United States and abroad.
"Our confidence in this product and this technology we're bringing to the market is very high," said Robert Van Adel, chief executive officer of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the parent of AECL Technologies.
The company is in negotiations with several U.S. companies interested in breaking into the nuclear energy market. However, little can be done until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves the reactor's design for use in the United States.
AECL has already started going through the licensing process with the NRC, Mr. Van Adel said.
AECL's plans come at a time of heightened concern about the safety of nuclear reactors, and some question whether the company's reactor is really more economical than what is already in place in the United States.
Mr. Van Adel said this reactor is both more economical and safer than other reactors. It uses a more cost-efficient cooling system and is a 700-megawatt construction, rather than the 1,000-megawatt reactors that are now common in the United States, he said.
The ACR-700 could be built for $1,000 per kilowatt and will operate for $30 per megawatt-hour, which is comparable to gas-fired technologies, he said. AECL predicts its ACR-700 technology will be competitive in price with natural gas by 2010.
"We believe that the ACR-700 is the first reactor on the market that has the right combination of cost, safety, security, size, reliability and environmental advantages to meet the needs of generators selling into competitive markets," Mr. Van Adel said.
David Lochbaum, an expert in nuclear safety for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the company could face problems selling new reactors, because at least 85 percent of the existing reactors in the United States are expected to be relicensed.
"As those reactors get relicensed, that delays the period of time they have to be replaced," he said.
Since September 11, many have questioned the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to attack and the wisdom of building more reactors. There are 103 licensed nuclear plants in 31 states, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.
Nuclear energy, which generates about 20 percent of the country's electricity, is considered to be a cleaner alternative to power generated by natural gas, oil and coal. However, there have always been concerns about how to store the 2,000 metric tons of spent radioactive fuel produced each year in the United States.
This high-level radioactive waste can be very dangerous, but according to a survey by the Nuclear Energy Institute, about 66 percent of Americans believe nuclear power is a safe option.
Despite the increasing public acceptance, there are no known plans to build more nuclear power plants in the United States, and this could pose problems for AECL in marketing its new reactor, Mr. Lochbaum said.
It also costs more to get a nuclear plant up and running, and it is unlikely that nuclear power's share in U.S. power generation will grow, he said.
Mr. Lochbaum also questioned the company's use of a water-based cooling system, which he says is being dismissed in most of the world in favor of more economical gas cooling models under development.
"It doesn't look like anyone in the U.S. has been able to find a way of using water economically," Mr. Lochbaum said.
But AECL is confident of its chances in the United States.He said the company is working with several major U.S. utilities to bring this reactor to the country.
There are 31 of AECL's CANDU reactors in place worldwide and six more under construction. AECL is owned by the Canadian government.

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