The last new nuclear reactor to come online in the U.S. was in 1996, but that may change soon. Southern Co. and numerous partners are building a nuclear reactor near Augusta, Georgia. The new Vogtle facility was backed by a $6.5 billion federal loan and many in the power sector are watching its construction closely.
The building and commissioning of nuclear power plants in the 1970s was plagued by delays and high costs, CBS Atlanta reported. If the Vogtle plant can be built for close to its estimated final costs - $14 billion - and without considerable delay, it may signal to U.S. utilities and investors that nuclear power generation is once again a smart investment.
There are three other new nuclear power plants in various stages of construction, according to The Wall Street Journal, and the outcome of these projects will also influence future power generation decisions. However, Scientific American reported the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing 20 applications for new nuclear reactors, which may signal that a nuclear revival in the U.S. is already underway.
The benefits of nuclear
While nuclear power plants are notoriously expensive to build, they are also a zero-carbon energy generation method. While many other methods, such as coal and natural gas, create carbon dioxide pollution, nuclear power plants do not have this negative environmental footprint.
What is holding nuclear back
A variety of reasons beyond the enormity and costs of building nuclear reactors have stalled the expansion of this method. Many in the U.S. have a fear of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in the back of their minds, as well as the considerable question of what to do with the nuclear waste. The cost of natural gas has also dropped dramatically in recent years, making the resource a far more attractive option than building new nuclear facilities.