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Judge gets it right on approving new reactors

Below is an excellent column by EIC Contributing Expert, Professor James Tulenko, published Dec. 17, 2013 in the Tallahassee Democrat.  Well done, Jim.   — Jerry

Judge Gets it Right on Approving New Reactors

by James S. Tulenko

This week, there were headlines across Florida declaring “Judge backs plans for FPL nuke project.” The stories reported that an administrative law judge recommended approval of a plan to build two additional nuclear reactors in Miami and necessary power lines, following a hearing and review of all testimony provided during public meetings held in South Florida and Tallahassee.

Actually the recommendation was for “certification” of the site location as part of a long process that included input from every sector of the public.

The recommendation was encouraging news and was applauded by many energy experts. Of course, consideration of new facilities is not a no-brainer these days. There was testimony by some who raised concerns ranging from power line corridor location to water usage requirements, and there even was opposition by the dwindling number of traditional anti-nuclear activists.

Most of the concerns, such as locating power lines, were addressed by choosing least-intrusive and most cost-effective routes pursuant to a balance of public comment and technical constraints. Overall, it was nice to see the process work as it was designed.

The recommendation lays the foundation for a decision that will provide 2200 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply more than 200,000 homes. It will save my fellow ratepayers more than $78 billion that would have been necessary for purchasing fossil fuels to generate this electricity. Construction and operations will create thousands of new jobs for decades to come. Most important, the new energy will come without emitting carbon or other greenhouse gases. This is good news for those of us who are advocates of cleaner air through lower emissions.

The additional energy helps to put our state in a position where it can supply the projected demand for electricity necessary to support an economy that will grow and provide even more jobs.

By adding some nuclear energy to our electricity supply portfolio, Florida is taking steps toward balancing its mix. Of course, most new electricity supply is currently developed around the recent discoveries of America’s vast reserves of natural gas, which is a fuel that is easy to deploy and emits less carbon than coal.

But many experts have warned that we must balance the growing gas power plant component with other sources as a hedge against multiple factors that fluctuate over time, such as fuel price stability and supply availability. Sources such as nuclear and solar help.

Florida has not added a new nuclear plant in more than 30 years, yet our population has doubled in that time. Accordingly, nuclear energy has dropped from about 20 percent of our mix to barely 10 percent. This week’s recommendation is a positive step toward diversifying our energy sources.

Florida should continue this trend. Nuclear and solar energy both can provide new electricity without emitting carbon and greenhouse gases. Of course, solar energy is intermittent — meaning that its availability depends on factors such as cloud cover — providing electricity for about 14 percent of the time. It is, however, a good complement to nuclear energy, which serves as base-load — meaning that it remains available more than 90 percent of the time. Although solar energy has traditionally been far more expensive than other sources, its cost has come down somewhat. Together, nuclear and solar can provide a reliable supply of clean, carbon-free electricity.

Across America energy experts are calling for states to develop plans for their energy future.

Many states have been slow to respond as they get mired in political gridlock, litigation and indecision. But Florida is moving forward with a vision that provides the electricity we need and the cleaner air that we want.

After all the testimony about this proposed new power plant, it was nice to see that this judge got it right.

James S. Tulenko is a professor emeritus in the Department of Nuclear and Radiological Engineering at the University of Florida. He is a past president of the American Nuclear Society and is a contributing expert to the Energy Information Center (

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