In 1951, the nation’s first nuclear reactor, “Experimental Breeder Reactor I,” came online in a small Idaho town called Arco, generating enough electricity to power four light bulbs (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016). Four years later the Atomic Energy Commission brought another plant online in the same town, producing enough power for its one thousand residents. It took another six years for a large-scale nuclear plant to complete construction in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, providing power to Pittsburgh (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016).
Throughout the next decade several more nuclear facilities would arise, along with fierce opposition to nuclear power in all its forms, from weapons to power production. In 1957, grassroots movements opposing nuclear energy began to spring up around the country, and in the early 1960’s, citizens of Utah and Nevada began showing high levels of leukemia because of blast testing that occurred freely the decade before (Rubinson). Despite this, nuclear power seemed to be the power of the future, with nuclear power plants being built all around the country. When OPEC began its embargo of the U.S. in 1973, Congress ordered 41 more nuclear plants to be built (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016).
Then, disaster struck the nation’s nuclear industry. In 1979 the Three Mile Island nuclear plant’s heat exchanger pumps failed, causing a series of subsequent failures that resulted in meltdown a of the fuel rods. (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016). Although the incident caused the public to panic, “its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public” (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016). Then, in 1986, the final nail in the industries’ proverbial coffin was hammered into place with the destruction of Unit 4 of the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision , 2016).
Today, construction of nuclear power facilities has nearly halted as more and more facilities are retired each year without replacements. The availability of natural gas has prevented nuclear from becoming economically viable. Between 1977 and 2013, zero nuclear plants were approved; however, some plants approved before 1977 came online in the eighties (World Nuclear Association , 2017).
Then, in 2013, construction began on four reactors in our very own backyard. Two of the plants are in Summer, South Carolina with the other two in Waynesboro, Georgia. With the bankruptcy of their largest financer, Westinghouse, the future of these reactors is in jeopardy. On July 31st, 2017, South Carolina pulled the plug on the construction of its two reactors because the expected costs soared from its initial $11.5 billion estimate to as much as $25 billion, and was over three years late (Plumer, U.S Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned, 2017). As UGA’s very own David Gattie stated, “it appears the hope for a nuclear comeback in the U.S, at least for the immediate future, rests with two reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Georgia” (Charlie, 2017).
On August 31st, Georgia Power affirmed its commitment to finishing the Vogtle reactors, stating “they can succeed where South Carolina failed” (Plumer, The U.S. Backs Off Nuclear Power. Georgia Wants to Keep Building Reactors , 2017). It seems that for now, there is still a hope for the only reliable, carbon free energy source currently available. While the financial costs of building reactors are undoubtedly high, we must ask ourselves what the cost of continuing to use fossil fuels will have on future generations.
Charlie. (2017, 8 2). Georgia Holds Fate of Future US Nuclear Power . Retrieved from Georgia Pol : https://www.georgiapol.com/2017/08/02/georgia-holds-fate-future-us-nuclear-power/
Plumer, B. (2017, 08 31). The U.S. Backs Off Nuclear Power. Georgia Wants to Keep Building Reactors . Retrieved from The New York Times : https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/31/business/georgia-vogtle-nuclear-reactors.html
Plumer, B. (2017, 07 2017). U.S Nuclear Comeback Stalls as Two Reactors Are Abandoned. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/climate/nuclear-power-project-canceled-in-south-carolina.html
Rubinson, P. (n.d.). The American Antinuclear Movement .
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commision . (2016, 3 30). Retrieved from History : https://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/emerg-preparedness/history.html
World Nuclear Association . (2017, 8 30). Nuclear Power in the USA . Retrieved from http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/usa-nuclear-power.aspx