Nuclear reactors? On the way out…

  • Published on October 25th, 2012

The nuclear energy fantasy is coming to an end...

Our fleet of nuclear reactors may be bigger than it was in 1916… but it’s about to start shrinking.

A Wisconsin power company has announced it will shut down one of its aging reactors… and there are a dozen more that are failing.

Market forces are at work here… While conservatives (who love nuclear) continue to rail against subsidies for up-and-coming clean energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal, nuclear power has enjoyed 50 years of government backing, and still can’t cut it.

The latest problem is the natural gas boom. With prices at record lows, power company Dominion Resources says it just doesn’t make any sense to try to keep its Kewaunee nuclear plant running, and will shutter it next year. The plant has reached its natural lifespan, and even though it got a 20-year extension to keep operating, Dominion says they’re just never going to get the sort of economies of scale happening with the small plant.

Nuclear power is just never going to cut it.

Writing at Daily Kos, Harvey Wasserman lists a bunch more of what he calls “rust-bucket reactors” that are rapidly decrepitating:

  • Two reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego, are down with  massive steam generator problems.  The potential cost of restarting them could easily run into the hundreds of millions.  A new leak of hydrogen gas has just complicated the situation as public hearings have drawn large, angry crowds demanding the reactors not reopen.
  • Repairs to Florida’s Crystal River have been so thoroughly botched by Progress Energy that holes in the containment may cost $2 billion or more to fix.  Odds are strong this reactor will never operate again.
  • Official reports now confirm that Nebraska’s Cooper and Ft. Calhoun reactors are at considerable risk from flooding.  One or both may soon face decommissioning.
  • A fierce public confrontation over Entergy’s leaky, accident-prone Vermont Yankee may soon bring it down.  Vermont’s governor and legislature have voted to deny permits necessary under state law, but Entergy has gone to the courts to prolong its operation.
  • A parallel confrontation at Entergy’s Indian Point may turn on whether the state’s denial of water permits could force shut a reactor just 35 miles north of Manhattan.  That the first plane to hit the World Trade Center flew directly over Indian Point has been a source of serious public tension since 9/11/2001.
  • New Jersey’s Oyster Creek is slated to shut by 2020 as a compromise forced by the state’s demand that it add cooling towers to avoid further thermal damage to local marine eco-systems.  But this dangerously decrepit reactor could go down early due to technical, economic and political pressures.
  • Ohio’s infamous “hole-in-the-head” reactor at Davis-Besse continues to operate with a compromised containment and a long list of unresolved technical problems.  Like Kewaunee, its economic future has been darkened by cheap natural gas.


About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.


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