Just-retired Rowe not bullish on new nuclear expansion

Although he ran the nation’s largest fleet of commercial nuclear power plants until days ago, just-retired Exelon (NYSE: EXC) Chairman and CEO John Rowe is not optimistic about seeing many new domestic power reactors built anytime soon.

Rowe, who also served on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, doubts there will be any U.S. repository for spent nuclear fuel developed in the next 15 years.

Rowe made the remarks in response to questions from GenerationHub after the utility veteran received a lifetime achievement award March 20 during the EnergyBiz Leadership Forum in suburban Washington, D.C. EnergyBiz Magazine is published by Energy Central. Rowe is scheduled to address the industry conference on Wednesday March 21.

On the new reactor front, Rowe said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of two new units at the Vogtle station is less of a sign of a nuclear revival than an illustration of Southern Co.’s (NYSE: SO) special relationship with regulators in Georgia. Southern subsidiary Georgia Power is leading a group of owners to develop Vogtle units 3 and 4 – a project which recently landed NRC’s first new nuclear plant license in more than 30 years.

The multi-billion-dollar project will provide economic development for Georgia for a number of years and the regulators there tend to be sympathetic, Rowe said.

While Exelon has the nation’s largest nuclear fleet, Rowe has said that the high capital costs and unresolved issue of what to do with nuclear waste make many new nuclear plants seem unlikely in the near term.

On the waste issue, the Blue Ribbon Commission has urged the creation of a quasi-governmental agency that would take over spent fuel oversight and planning from the U.S. Department of Energy. The commission also concluded in its report that any spent fuel repository must be endorsed by its host community – unlike the situation with the long-debated Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

Getting any waste center cited under such criteria would take a long time, Rowe said. Rowe has been the senior chief executive in the utility industry, serving in such positions since 1984. Rowe has led Exelon since its formation in 2000 and retired following the just-completed merger with Baltimore-based Constellation Energy.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.