Don't call it a renaissance yet, says John Rowe, who oversees the biggest fleet of nuclear reactors in the United States.
President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday that the government will guarantee loans for the country's first new nuclear plants in 30 years is a necessary move that won't in itself spur a revival of the dormant industry, said Rowe, chief executive of Chicago-based Exelon Corp.
"We may see more and faster development of new plants now," said Rowe, whose company operates 17 reactors. "We probably won't see a full-blown nuclear renaissance in the next five to 10 years."
In the first disbursement from a 5-year-old program, Obama said Atlanta-based Southern Co. and partners will receive $8.33 billion in loan guarantees to build two reactors in Georgia, next to two existing ones. The plants would be the first licensed in the United States since a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.
While the United States operates more nuclear plants than any other country, with 104 reactors, it's playing catch-up in construction. Worldwide, 56 reactors are being built, including 21 in China, nine in Russia, six in South Korea and five in India, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
Only one plant, the resurrection of a canceled project in Tennessee, is under way in the United States.
The total worldwide investment in building new nuclear plants is about $270 billion, the Arlington, Va.-based Pew Center on Global Climate Change said in a report Wednesday.
In addition to lingering concerns about safety, the rising cost of reactors to more than $8 billion each and the absence of a plan for disposing of nuclear waste have short-circuited revival initiatives.