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The dramatic economic failure of America’s nuclear industry

The controversial future of nuclear power in the U.S. National Geographic, 45 May 21, ”……….debates rage over whether nuclear should be a big part of the climate solution [[the nuclear industry’s confidence trick] in the U.S. The majority of American nuclear plants today are approaching the end of their design life, and only one has been built in the last 20 years. Nuclear proponents are now banking on next-generation designs …….

Yet an expansion of nuclear power faces some serious hurdles, and the perennial concerns about safety and long-lived radioactive waste may not be the biggest: Critics also say nuclear reactors are simply too expensive and take too long to build to be of much help with the climate crisis.

Bombs into plowshares

A test reactor at the Idaho National Laboratory, where Finan now works, produced the first electrical power from nuclear energy in 1951. Its success was soon trumpeted in President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous “atoms for peace” speech to the United Nations in 1953. Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist who runs the non-profit Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, points out that the speech was given shortly after a thermonuclear test blast in the Soviet Union, when atomic fears were at a peak.

The United States, still the world’s largest producer by far of nuclear electricity, currently has 94 reactors in 28 states. But after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, when a reactor partially melted down near Middletown, Pennsylvania, enthusiasm for nuclear energy dimmed.

The average age of American power plants, which are licensed to run for 40 years, is 39; in the last decade, at least five have been retired early, largely because maintenance costs and cheaper sources of power made them too expensive to operate.

The most recent closure came just last week, on April 30, when the second of two reactors was shut down at the Indian Point power plant, on the Hudson River north of New York City. …

Late and over budget

While environmental opposition may have been the primary force hindering nuclear development in the 1980s and 90s, now the biggest challenge may be costs. Few nuclear plants have been built in the U.S. recently because they are very expensive to build here, which makes the price of their energy high.

Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, led a group of scientists who recently completed a two-year study examining the future of nuclear energy in the U.S. and western Europe. They found that “without cost reductions, nuclear energy will not play a significant role” in decarbonizing the power sector.

“In the West, the nuclear industry has substantially lost its ability to build large plants,” Buongiorno says, pointing to Southern Company’s effort to add two new reactors to Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, Georgia. They have been under construction since 2013, are now billions of dollars over budget—the cost has more than doubled—and years behind schedule. In France, ranked second after the U.S. in nuclear generation, a new reactor in Flamanville is a decade late and more than three times over budget………

May 6, 2021 - Posted by | business and costs, USA

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