I am at the Amelia Island Plantation on the northeast coast of Florida for the annual American Nuclear Society Utility Working Conference. The meeting, which has been held during the same week in August at the same location since 1994, is a chance for leaders in the nuclear portion of the electric utility industry to meet with colleagues, vendors, and regulators to share thoughts and lessons learned during the past year.
The atmosphere is collegial and most attendees take advantage of the opportunity to bring their families to spend some time at one of the premier resorts in Florida with golf, tennis and water sports readily available. A number of the attendees have been coming for years and use the conference as a time to build relationships with people that face some of the same daily challenges.
One of the great lessons that the nuclear industry in the US has learned since 1979 – in the post Three Mile Island era – is that many problems in operating nuclear plants can be avoided if lessons are shared widely. The idea is that it is usually cheaper to let someone else’s mistake be the basis for figuring out how to avoid making the same one.
As might be expected, there is a real sense of accomplishment and anticipation detectable in this year’s conference. I last attended in 1995, and the general feeling then was that current owners of nuclear plants had good assets that were worth careful operation and maintenance, but that they were probably going to gradually be shut down without replacement once they reached the end of their useful life. There was little talk then of new plant construction.
That has changed dramatically. Last night’s introductory speaker made it clear that the talk of new plants is widespread and considered to be “a good thing.” As he told the attendees, the current plant operators get to take a lot of the credit for the gradual shift in public opinion about the safety and benefits of nuclear power plants. Decades of relatively untroubled operation with steady increases in reliability have formed part of the basis for the idea that nuclear power can make a positive impact on the world’s energy supply challenges.
I am looking forward to the sessions and will provide some of my general impressions during the next few days. Since this is a working conference with busy attendees, it will all be over on Wednesday at about noon so that people can get back to work.