On 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, U.S. nuke Renaissance still dead
- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster today with a visit to site of the power plant and announced he wanted new world rules covering safety.
- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday talked up nuclear power as the “safest” form of energy on the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl amid fears linked to the disaster in Japan….. Italy abandoned nuclear power in 1987 after the Chernobyl disaster. Berlusconi has promised to re-introduce nuclear power in order to cut power bills….
Ahh, if only new nukes could cut power bills (see Intro to nuclear power). But then Berlusconi is the Charlie Sheen of Italian leaders.
The notable U.S. nuclear event leading up to the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl was the plug-pulling on one of the few remaining vestiges of the once-vaunted nuclear Renaissance. As ABC News money reported last week:
Blaming uncertainties arising from the nuclear crisis in Japan, NRG Energy says it will write down its $481 million investment in two planned new nuclear reactors in South Texas.
NRG Chief Executive David Crane said Tuesday it was unlikely the two reactors could be completed in a timely fashion.
Support for new nuclear projects in the US has eroded in the aftermath of the nuclear crisis in Japan, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted earlier this month. One of NRG’s partners was to be TEPCO, the Japanese utility that owns the reactor complex crippled by last month’s earthquake and tsunami.
But it isn’t lack of public support killing the nukes –it’s the economics (see The Nukes of Hazard: Efficiency is 10 times cheaper today, renewables “costs are dropping fast”). Back in October, Exelon CEO John Rowe explained that low gas prices and no carbon price push back nuclear renaissance a “decade, maybe two.”
In short, nuclear power has gone from “too cheap to meter” to “too costly to matter” (see The staggering cost of new nuclear power).
NRG, based in Princeton, N.J., hoped to build two new reactors at its South Texas Project nuclear station, an operating two-reactor power plant 90 miles southwest of Houston. The project is in line for a federal loan guarantee, but low electricity prices had clouded prospects for the plan even before the incident in Japan.
When prices of natural gas and electricity were high in the middle of the last decade, dozens of proposals for new nuclear reactors were submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Now just a handful of projects remain active.
Southern Co. has begun work on a two-reactor project near Augusta, Ga. SCANA is preparing to build two reactors in South Carolina, about 20 miles northwest of Columbia. The Tennessee Valley Authority has resumed construction of a reactor in Eastern Tennessee that was abandoned in 1988 when it was nearly complete.
The meltdown in Japan pulled back the veil on the grim underlying economics of nuclear power and certainly killed the myth that we can afford to skimp on review, oversight, and safety in an effort to save money.
We should mark the Chernobyl disaster by remembering those who suffered through it — and recommitting to genuinely safe, low-carbon energy sources with declining costs (see Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve? ‘Forgetting by doing’? Real escalation in reactor investment costs).