TIME magazine on the future of nuclear power

July 14, 2003
Dave Lochbaum
Nuclear Safety Engineer, Union of Concerned Scientists

Apologies if you've already seen it, but attached is a feature article from TIME magazine on the future of nuclear power in the United States. It is titled: Time to choose: As energy needs rocket, America must face down old demons and decide on a role for nuclear power. Surprise, it's gaining new respect (748 KB pdf).

The article points out --

  1. A recent poll shows that support for nuclear power is growing.

  2. The Bush administration put forth an energy plan proposing a greater role for nuclear power and aids that proposal by licensing reforms intended to facilitate new construction.

  3. New nuclear power plants could help reduce climate change problems.

  4. A Merrill Lynch analyst states "The first utility that announces plans to build a new nuclear reactor will see its stock dumped," reflecting Wall Street's concerns about nuclear's past.

  5. Yucca Mountain will soon be the repository for the high-level waste from nuclear power plants.
  6. A new generation of nuclear reactors, such as a gas-cooled reactor using fuel in the form of round "pebbles," is much safer than today's reactors.

  7. Congress's efforts to foster new nuclear power is hampered by the nuclear industry's image. One Senate staffer is quoted as saying, "This is a hard industry to help."

  8. Former NRC Commissioner Victor Gilinsky is quoted as saying, "The whole thing [nuclear power] became too ponderous, instead of practical and sensible."
By the way, the article is dated April 29, 1991. What has happened in the past 12 years?

  • Construction on a grand total of zero nuclear reactors has begun.

  • A grand total of zero nuclear reactors have been ordered.

  • Nine (9) nuclear reactors have permanently closed due to unfavorable economics: Yankee Rowe, Trojan, San Onofre 1, Haddam Neck, Maine Yankee, Millstone Unit 1, Big Rock Point, Zion 1 and Zion 2.

  • Fifteen (15) nuclear reactors have been shut down for a year or longer for safety repairs: FitzPatrick, Indian Point 3, South Texas Project Units 1&2, Salem Units 1&2, Millstone Units 2&3, Crystal River, LaSalle Units 1&2, Clinton, DC Cook Units 1&2, and Davis-Besse.

  • The Modular High Temperature Reactor has been renamed the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor on blueprints and in cyberspace.

  • Yucca Mountain is still in Nevada and still sans nuclear waste.
If, as TIME asserted, 1991 was the time to choose, it appears that the choice was made - no more new nukes.

If TIME was wrong and now is the time to choose, it appears that the choice will be the same. Nuclear power is more expensive and less safe than it needs to be due to poor management and even poorer regulatory oversight. As long as those two wrongs are in place, it'll not be the right choice to build another nuclear reactor in the United States.