Nuclear Power’s Future

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.

 

Works Cited

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

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Nuclear Power’s Future

  1. With more and more coal plants closing, nuclear will have to make up the baseload slack. This is the only feasible, continuous source of zero-carbon energy we have. After the abandonment of the new VC Summer construction by SCANA and Duke Energy canceling the William Lee Generating Station project in August after sinking over 300 million into it, nuclear’s future was especially grim. Southern Company’s recent decision to continue construction on the Plant Vogtle units can hopefully be a rallying point for nuclear going forward. I do think the industry is in a low point currently but ultimately believe there is no other feasible option for the country to move toward to meet the energy demand and emission goals. Natural gas cannot replace all the baseload lost with the continual shutdown of coal. This will put increasing pressure on companies and the government to invest in nuclear programs to meet the demands. Increased nuclear development internationally, mainly with China and India, might also spark more attention on nuclear here in the US.

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  2. I go back and forth about nuclear energy a lot. I understand its risks and that the trade off is really large; if it fails, a lot of livelihoods are at stake. But I also understand that it is our best shot for a zero-carbon emission energy source at the time being. Dr. Gattie gave me a book called “Energy for Future Presidents” and it broke down all of the different types of energy and what their trade offs were. The book taught me a lot about how much thought and control goes into building nuclear power plants, and how they are actually very safe if operated correctly and with caution. I think that it cannot hurt to increase our nuclear energy dependence, but a lot would have to go into public education so that people understand all the safety measures in place. Otherwise, everyone is going to look to Chernobyl and assume the worst.

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  3. Most of the largest uranium sources in the world are an ocean away from America. Many natural gas resources are inside the United States. As China becomes more powerful, increases their nuclear energy capacity, and expands their sphere of influence over the eastern hemisphere, nuclear resource may not be as attainable as it is now. It seems to me that the switch to natural gas is not only an economical decision, but also a more secure decision because of an expected loss of nuclear attainability. The consequence of this decision is the loss of the only other known baseload generator and and the loss of overall generation diversity, both of which are energy security threats. I am unsure on where I stand on the nuclear argument, but it seems that: 1. nuclear has a larger technological potential if continually attainable and 2. the United States would be taking a high risk route by “putting all our eggs into one basket” eliminating baseload plants and switching to natural gas. I would recommend that if natural gas does become our main source of energy, we need to use its economic efficiency to fuel renewable or other alternative energy research.

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    1. Thats a good point, Chase, on availability of uranium. I think I heard one time that they get a lot from Australia, and the native people groups are having none of it. Energy diversity, too, would be a subject I’d like to hear more thoroughly explained in the future.

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  4. I think much of the problem with nuclear power is misunderstanding by the general public. Many people do not know what nuclear power is; they hear “nuclear”, they think “bomb”. The media may have a large role in this imagery, as they only cover nuclear meltdowns (saying that a nuclear power plant survived another day is boring). Although nuclear power is expensive to start, it serves a wonderful payback over a long period of time. Nuclear power should be thought of as an investment, rather than a cost.

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  5. I agree with Mayah’s take above, most of the issue is just the uneducated public simply opposing a topic they don’t know barely anything about (Also a major problem in our country). I definitely understand all the cons on nuclear power and that the waste can be hazardous, but I think it’s necessary to continue to grow this industry. In Gattie’s class we discussed how China and Russia are advancing their nuclear influence and opening many power plants while America has lugged around in recent years. Natural gas may be cheap, but eventually I believe were gonna need to rely on Nuclear.

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  6. I was thrilled to hear that Southern Company plans to complete Voglte 3&4 (pending the PSC’s approval). With the completion of these two reactors, Georgia will have a carbon-free, baseload power source for 60-70 years. Right now, with natural gas prices being so low, nuclear isn’t the most economical fuel source we have. However, looking further down the road, who is to say that natural gas prices will stay this low? Also, with climate change on everyone’s mind, I see some sort of carbon regulation coming within the next 10-15 years. With those factors in mind, I believe investing in nuclear and continuing to build these reactors is a great move.

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    1. Heck yeah Georgia! I just hope that Southern Company doesn’t tank with the reactors if the completion time estimate and monetary investments continue to expand… that would place a large burden on local EMCs in Georgia that I’m not sure they’re capable of bearing on their own. I am sure they would be resilient if they needed to though. The variable prices of natural gas, to Chase’s point, are matched by the economic behaviors of uranium availability. I have no idea what the market trends are for uranium, but I know there’s data out there on it.

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  7. I agree with the previous comments that the public needs to be more educated on the safety and economic potential of nuclear reactors. My high school environmental course had brought in a reactor facilitator to talk about nuclear energy. He had mentioned that today’s nuclear reactors are safe with a number of features that are put in place to prevent a nuclear disaster. He had also mentioned that the public does not know enough. He gave an example that the average person who sees a cooling tower releasing steam will assume it is releasing toxic air or extremely damaging GHGs such as CO2. While nuclear facilities are much more expensive to develop, I think that there will be a point where it will have to become a more dominant source of energy. I also think that we should begin to reprocess our nuclear waste as France does to concentrate the amount of nuclear waste we produce, and to get more out of our resources.

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  8. I agree with Mayah in that Nuclear power gets a bad reputation. Pretty much the only time the mass media covers something on a reactor, it has to do with it failing or melting down and spreading toxic waste throughout the area. As for now, I think the money issue and the availability of natural gas will prevail. I think it will take a carbon-emissions cap to final bring nuclear energy into its proper light. I also think by then, nuclear energy will have become advanced to the point where meltdowns are near impossible. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Anytime “nuclear” is thrown around the public, it scares people. Not because of the risks, but because it sounds dangerous. Yes, there are risks to having nuclear plants but I believe most of the general public is just uneducated on it. As coal usage decreases, some form of power generation will have to pick up the slack of the base load. Natural gas is the big player right now as it is in such abundance here in the U.S., but nuclear’s benefits far outweigh any other power generation. As the United States starts to look towards the future, I believe that environmental policies & regulations will be put into place soon and investing into nuclear power is the way to go.

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  10. I believe that if Plant Vogtle is a success, that will show nuclear has a chance. Then it is only a matter of time before fracking gains too much notoriety for being too environmentally damaging or the economics stop working in natural gas’s favor. Once it is economically viable, I believe the south eastern United states with pave the way with nuclear energy to meet emission goals set by the EPA. The lack of renewable resources in the state of Georgia may allow it the opportunity to set a standard with nuclear power as our main source of electricity. We have the land to create bio fuel, but I believe the opportunity cost is too high when you could be growing food for the country.

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  11. Interesting thoughts. I think part of the problem with Nuclear is the public’s perception. The risk is huge, but the reward is huge as well. I also think most of the population fails to remember that almost everything within a plant is painstakingly calculated and measured. These scientists and engineers aren’t just throwing up a plant with a couple of nails and a hammer. China has been very active with following the Paris Climate Change agreement, and part of there success comes from the increase of nuclear power plants.

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  12. I am really glad that you brought up the subject of Nuclear generation. I my opinion, it is definitely the future of power generation in this country. Everyone wants clean energy, however we can’t just flip a switch and be 100 % on wind, solar, hydro. We have to gradually get there, also those forms of energy only produce small amounts. Nuclear has the capacity to produce large quantities of energy in a much cleaner way than coal and natural gas. The problem is when people hear the word nuclear and instinctively get scared and want to go the other way, they don’t realize the improvements we have made in that field. I have worked at a natural gas combined cycle plant alongside people who have previously been at nuclear plants and the safety precautions that take is remarkable. We have improved our ability to control and prevent disaster at these nuclear plants so much that the threat of risk is significantly small. I just hope the majority of the population will have the same thinking for the near future. Great article though.

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  13. I am a big supporter of nuclear energy. I am hopeful that with the success of Plant Vogtle, public opinion will shift and the rest of the nation will climb on board. Eventually carbon emission regulations will become more strict and states without solar, wind, or hydro capacity might be forced to highly consider nuclear.

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  14. As a supporter of nuclear energy, I see nuclear growing and eventually becoming one of our main sources of energy. The generation of today is being educated on the safety of it and how valuable it really is rather than the hysteria that the previous generation has developed. Some people don’t realize this, but with an increase in nuclear positivity, the world’s anti-proliferation efforts increase. Currently being constructed at SRS is the MOX facility that is designed to take nuclear weapons-grade plutonium from Russia and convert it into safe, fuel pellets that will power nuclear energy plants and create energy. Its a no-brainer; we’re taking Russia’s bomb ingredients and making power in the US. But with the negativity surrounding nuclear and politics around this project, they threaten to shut it down every year. This not only wouldn’t make sense because it is almost 60% completed, but it would also cause issues with our relations with Russia. We have an agreement with Russia and if we just decide we dont want to hold up our end of the bargain, it could be dangerous to the safety of The United States.

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  15. Like many others, I agree that if people were more informed about nuclear they were make better decisions concerning Nuclear. One issue that I’ve noticed just talking about it in a classroom like setting is that not everyone knows and/or can decipher the different sectors or Nuclear.

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  16. Due to the slow yet steady pace of renewable energy development, particularly solar PV and wind farms, nuclear is vital source of energy generation which needs to be diverted away from fossil fuels. The largest arguments that I see against nuclear power is a mix between fear and misconception. The fear of nuclear power plants experiencing a meltdown is valid however, as we have seen, this is a very rare occurrence however, the consequences are extremely detrimental. On the other hand, many individuals are uneducated with how “relatively clean” these nuclear power plants are compared with burning oil or coal. The plumes of vapor leaving the massive nuclear cooling towers are often mislabeled as harmful gas emissions when in reality its only water vapor being emitted. Nuclear power is essential, but it is necessary to educate the public on how nuclear power plants need to be safely operated in order to get more support behind this form of energy production.

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  17. Over the summer, I actually drove through Arco, Idaho. And two things: there is nothing in or within 100 miles of Arco, Idaho. Safe to say, the original nuclear power plant went up in that region, because no one would have really noticed. Not even the birds. But that’s besides the point…

    I never understood the strict opposition from the environmental stalwarts of our generation (Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF, etc.) It seems that on the world stage, the only huge players disregarding nuclear power as a substantial base load power source are large American environmental advocacy groups, who base their whole hopes on a few studies by Stanford’s Jacobson. I’ll agree that the issue of safe storage of nuclear waste and sky high prices are issues, but they are self-inflicted wounds by Americana companies, government, and people. France does not have that issue, because of their strict, goal-oriented policy. I understand the safety risk, but the amazingly sky high regulations and building codes for nuclear power plants in this country (for good measure…) prevent many disasters from happening like Fukushima. If we want a reliable base load power source, then we need nuclear power. Batteries aren’t even close, and natural gas spews CO2 (though not as much as coal…)

    Plus, why would Georgia then throw away all the money it has invested over the past ten years for this plant when it is near completion? Talk about wasting my power bill’s money.

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  18. Nuclear power can come in two forms. Fission and Fusion. Fusion is still in an experimental stage but offers much less negatives. There is much less heavy elemental leftovers and this could potentially be looked at. The cost to figure out how to make fusion work is large and the outlook for it actually being used is something like 30 years. However it is something to look at.

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  19. Nuclear power can come in two forms. Fission and Fusion. Fusion is still in an experimental stage but offers much less negatives. There is much less heavy elemental leftovers and this could potentially be looked at. The cost to figure out how to make fusion work is large and the outlook for it actually being used is something like 30 years. However it is something to look at.

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  20. Nuclear power is a subject that I have changed my mind about many times. While I see the obvious advantages such as massive energy generation, I also see the imminent issue of what to do with the nuclear waste. If the issues that come with nuclear power, such as this, do not get resolved and the number of nuclear reactors being built slows, I wonder if that will allow other technologies to catch up. One technology that I see making huge strides is personal solar generation and storage, with the most notable example being Tesla. The extremely simplified idea is that energy that is generated from roof-mounted solar panels is stored in a “home battery” so that it can be used during day and night. I’d be curious of what other technologies could catch up while the nuclear debate continues.

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  21. I am a big proponent of Nuclear Energy. There are pros and cons of using Nuclear Energy, however in our current state of energy consumption and impact of the environment. Something interesting I was reading about the other day was how Nuclear Energy is the only energy source that is immune to weather conditions. Recently, Texas has had issues with gas explosions due to Hurricane Harvey, but the Nuclear plants have been running smoothly.

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  22. I am very happy to see that Georgia Power is continuing its construction of the two nuclear plants as I believe that nuclear energy is the best interim energy source until solar and wind begin to rapidly expand and take over as our primary energy source. However, I believe that Thorium reactors are a much more efficient way to produce energy as oppose to Uranium plants and I still do not understand why Thorium has not gotten more attention.

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