Twilight Of Nuclear Power

The Idaho National Laboratory plans to provide guided tours of the first nuclear reactor to produce utility scale electricity. The Experimental Breeder Reactor-I was built in 1951 in eastern Idaho. The reactor was decommissioned in 1964 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Construction of nuclear reactors in the United States began to slow in the 1980s due to modest growth in electricity demand, increasing construction costs, and mounting public opposition. The United States Atomic Energy Commission implemented stringent new safety measures following the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. The new safety measure significantly increased construction costs for all new nuclear power plants. The Three Mile Island nuclear accident also increased growing anti-nuclear sentiment among the general public.

Nuclear power capacity has slowly declined as plants have been closed or retired. In 1990, there were 132 operating nuclear reactors. Today, there are 99 operating nuclear reactors. Seven additional nuclear reactors are scheduled to be retired by 2025.

A recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance concludes that more than a quarter of nuclear plants in the United States are losing money. The report also states that 24 of the nuclear plants operating in the United States won’t be profitable through 2021 or are already scheduled to close. Those 24 nuclear power plants provide 32.5 GW of generating capacity to keep the lights and power operating in our cities and towns.

What is the solution to the high cost of nuclear power? The cost to generate electricity from nuclear power is significantly more expensive than natural gas, hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal coal or oil. Does the federal government and the consumer pay the escalating cost for nuclear power or does the United States move from nuclear energy to other sources of energy?

Fossil fuels generate significant greenhouse gases and air pollution. Not every region in the United States has sufficient renewable energy resources to replace the power capacity from nuclear power. In my opinion, the answer will depend on the region. In some regions, renewable energy such as hydropower, offshore wind, onshore wind, solar and geothermal can replace some or all of the power lost from the closing of nuclear power plants. In other regions, nuclear power may be the only answer for clean, reliable energy.

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