The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) has released its third and final issue in its Nuclear Exit series, this time turning its expert focus on the United States. The first two installments looked at Germany and France, countries that share a border but are - for historical, political, and economic reasons - answering the nuclear power question in different ways.
The second editorial piece in this five-part installment to be presented on PennEnergy.com comes from former NRC Commissioner Peter A. Bradford who writes in his engaging and somewhat counterintuitive essay, “How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing,” that the overall business-as-usual approach the US has to nuclear power is exactly what could lead to a US nuclear phase-out.
How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing
By Peter A. Bradford
The United States is on course to all but exit the commercial nuclear power industry even if the country awakens to the dangers of climate change and adopts measures to favor low-carbon energy sources. Nuclear power had been in economic decline for more than three decades when the Bush administration launched a program that aimed to spark a nuclear power renaissance through subsidies and a reformed reactor licensing process. But Wall Street was already leery of the historically high costs of nuclear power. An abundance of natural gas, lower energy demand induced by the 2008 recession, increased energy-efficiency measures, nuclear’s rising cost estimates, and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station further diminished prospects for private investment in new US nuclear plants. Without additional and significant governmental preferences for new nuclear construction, market forces will all but phase out the US nuclear fleet by midcentury.
Here’s what the US government must do to bring about a gradual phase-out of almost all US nuclear power plants: absolutely nothing. The United States is more or less on course to exit the commercial nuclear power industry, even if the country awakens to the dangers of climate change and adopts broad-based measures to favor low-carbon energy sources. Only a massive, government-driven infusion of taxpayer or customer dollars, targeted specifically to new nuclear reactors, will produce a different result.
Dominion Resources Inc. recently announced that it will close the Kewaunee Power Station in Carlton, Wisconsin in 2013. The decision, said Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell, “was based purely on economics”. With that announcement, the 30-year struggle between pronuclear prophets and market realities in the United States appears to be entering a new phase, one in which market forces challenge the economic viability even of existing nuclear plants, while making new reactors hopelessly unattractive as investments.
Continue here: How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing
Part 1: Introduction- A US Nuclear Exit