Despite recent nuclear controversy, think V.C. Summer and nearby Plant Vogtle in Georgia, American Nuclear Society President Bob Coward is more than happy with nuclear energy's future.
"I get excited," Coward said during his Newberry Hall lecture Jan. 10. "I'm excited as hell."
A perfect storm of international decarbonization efforts, Washington, D.C., policymaker assumptions and technological advancements, he said, are clearing the way – even if ever-so-slowly – for nuclear growth.
"There's a bright light out there on the horizon, and that's our opportunity," Coward said. "That bright light is getting brighter … Put your sunglasses on it's so bright."
Coward began his lecture, hosted jointly by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness and the American Nuclear Society, with an assessment of the current nuclear power landscape: "Let's be optimistic," he said.
According to Coward, there's more nuclear power now than there ever has been – 450 reactors across 30 countries. He said 60 more are currently being built across 15 countries, and big political players are expressing interest.
There is a downside, however. Six "perfectly good" reactors have closed recently, Coward said, all Pennsylvania nuclear power plants are "being threatened," and natural gas prices are beating everything else out. Anti-nuclear activists are now organized, educated and "thoughtful," Coward continued, which adds to the mix, and "slick-suited" lawyers are being hired to represent them.
"We can't ignore reality," Coward said. "Right now, it feels like the sand is slipping through the hourglass."
Doom and gloom aside, Coward said, nuclear workers, businesses and plants alike should expect success.
Getting there, though, Coward said, will demand many things: a "leadership moment" that requires "electing and deciding" how to influence the future; fulfilling even the smallest of promises, which will inspire nuclear trust; proper preparation; and taking advantage of an already "disrupted" energy market.
"Disruption means opportunity," Coward told the 70 people in attendance.
The current pro-environment, green energy wave is the perfect time for nuclear energy to pounce, Coward said: Increasingly popular environmental policies – the Paris Agreement, for example – offer nuclear energy production a time to shine.
"Nuclear power, you need nuclear power," Coward said.