Big nuclear could get hung up on one small snag — ingots. Well, maybe not so small, given that the hardened steel nuclear reactor cores that house fuel rods cost $350 million and weigh around 600 tons. The problem, as Bloomberg reports, is that there’s only one company forging the highly specialized ingots, and they’re only able to make four of them every year. The company is Japan Steel Works Ltd. (JSW) and its CEO estimates that the competition is at least five years away from touching JSW’s technology.
This is “definitely a bottleneck,” Areva, the world’s biggest nuclear reactor builder, told Bloomberg. And that’s bad news for those nuclear advocates busy getting approval for new plants all over the world. Four a year? That’s a faster clip then we’ve seen since Chernobyl but nowhere near the 17 new nuclear power plants some say needed each year to help make a dent in emissions reductions.
Already developers looking as far out as 2015 are rumored to be putting down $100 million to get on the ingot list. The huge demand has JSW considering expanding. “Our concern is the U.S.,” a JSW plant manager told Bloomberg. The Bush “administration is aggressive in building nuclear plants, but we wonder how many plants will actually be built.”
President Bush in a speech earlier this month proudly brought up the $18.5 billion earmarked for nuclear loan guarantees, but there might not be enough reactors for the recent nuclear renaissance. Perhaps those billions, which dwarf the measly the $1 billion and $2 billion projects slated for renewable energy development, could be diverted away from nuclear and into cleantech? Seems unlikely. Beyond the Bush administration, the presidential hopefuls have all shown a willingness to explore nuclear. McCain is a huge nuclear proponent, going so far as to withhold his approval of the Lieberman-Warner Bill because it doesn’t include nuclear by name. So now the nuclear industry needs a new tag line: Got Ingot?