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October 12, 2023 Editor's Column

Editor’s Column

William R. Drexel

As we close the Infrastructure and Regulated Industries Section’s “year” with this final issue of Volume 62, I first want to thank Andy Emerson on behalf of our entire Section for leading us this past year as Chair. It has been an exciting time, as we have witnessed an unprecedented commitment of government investment in our nation’s infrastructure, much of which still must wind its way through the administrative process that is at the heart of the expertise of most of our practitioners.

Andy has done an admirable job of guiding our Section to exercise thought leadership on key infrastructure legal developments while educating our members and the broader ABA on the key developments in infrastructure industries. In fact, this issue’s main article is an outgrowth of a presentation at our last Council meeting and our next Council meeting will feature a CLE presentation on the incipient world of the metaverse, which was the subject of an article in our last issue.

This issue of Infrastructure features an article on advances in nuclear power electric generation by Tim McHugh, Andrew Flavin, John Sample, Bonnie Gill, and William Smith of Troutman Pepper. Irrespective of whether one believes society needs to achieve zero-emission electric generation by 2050, as some states have mandated, or society needs to have an all-of-the-above energy policy, nuclear generation is and will continue to be a significant source of reliable, cost-effective base load electric generation for years to come. The authors explain that nuclear represents about 20 percent of current base load generation and technological advances can allow nuclear to play an increasing generation role in an electric industry slated to face a potential tripling of demand by 2050 due to increasing needs for transportation, heating, and industrial uses.

In contrast to traditional nuclear technology using light water reactors between 300 and 1,000 or more megawatts, newer reactor technologies promise safer, cheaper, and more efficient generation from small modular reactors 300 megawatts or less in size. Tim and his colleagues describe the new, small modular technology and its attributes. The small modular size of the reactors is conducive to remote manufacture and assembly, producing more efficient cost-effective production in contrast to the often delayed, cost over-run nature of traditional large-scale reactor construction. The small size also creates more flexibility for placements off the electric grid for industrial use or for placement within an existing nuclear facility. Consistency in the manufacturing and design process can also enhance safety, reliability, and, potentially, the regulatory permitting process.

After describing the nature and advantages of small modular nuclear reactors, the authors explore a case study involving the steps Virginia has taken to encourage the deployment of this advanced technology within the next decade. They close with an examination of steps being undertaken in other states to explore small modular nuclear as a solution to growing electric demand.

I opened this column by congratulating Andy Emerson for leading our Section. Let me close by congratulating Tim McHugh, who will succeed me as Editor of Infrastructure. This is my last issue serving as your Editor. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable five years working on issues with dedicated and brilliant people who are at the top of their profession. I received far more than I gave in serving in this role. It has been delightful to get to know more people outside the telecom sector in which I practiced and to have the ability through our podcasts to explore ideas with the authors of articles in more depth, with more interactivity, and more timeliness that a printed publication permits. I also want to thank Sue Koz and the rest of the ABA administrative staff as well as Susan Lorimor and Lisa Comforty who served as the ABA staff editors for IRIS during my stint as Infrastructure Editor. They all made my job easier.

I will remain involved in our Section but plan to focus most of my energy on my work in prison ministry that I started after retiring from AT&T in 2019. As reflected in his article in this issue, I have no doubt that Tim will serve you well as the new Editor and I wish him and all of you the very best… until we meet again!

We hope you enjoy this issue as well as our associated podcasts. If you have suggested topics for future issues or podcasts, or would like to submit an article for consideration, please contact Tim at [email protected].

The material in all ABA publications is copyrighted and may be reprinted by permission only. Request reprint permission here.

William R. Drexel