From Business Week’s December 25, 1978 Special Report “Nuclear Dilemma: The Atom’s Fizzle in an Energy-Short World” (h/t Amory Lovins)
In April, I debunked a piece by journalist Mark Lynas (see “Lynas pens error-riddled, cost-less nuke op-ed“). I also said I’d do a longer post about one particular myth he repeated:
In the 1970s it looked as if nuclear power was going to play a much bigger role than eventually turned out to be the case. What happened was Three Mile Island, and the birth of an anti-nuclear movement that stopped dozens of half-built or proposed reactors….
Just as the U.S. nuclear renaissance was mostly dead before Fukushima, so too was the original cycle of nuclear plant orders dead before TMI — killed by rising prices for plants and cost over-runs. As a December 1978 Business Week’s Special Report “Nuclear Dilemma: The Atom’s Fizzle in an Energy-Short World” explained:
One by one, the lights are going out for the U.S. nuclear power industry. Reactor orders have plummeted from a high of 41 in 1973 to zero this year. Nuclear power stations are taking longer to build, and the delays are tacking hundreds of millions of dollars onto their costs. Waste disposal, which was supposed to be solved by now, is not. The export market is already glutted and shrinking fast. And the cumulative effect of these and other troubles has been a severe erosion of both public and political support for nuclear power.
Furthermore, domestic utilities are facing such shrunken growth projections for electricity demand that even if the nuclear industry’s political, social, economic, and regulatory difficulties could be solved, there may not be an adequate market left for their product. Not soon, but within 10 years, the U.S. nuclear industry is apt to contract dramatically, and it may collapse altogether. Says a senior, nonnuclear executive at General Electric Co., one of the four remaining reactor makers: ‘The existing nuclear industry can’t survive. Period.”
His is not a radical view.
Actually there appear to have been two orders in 1978. But the point is the same – the industry had collapsed long before TMI. Indeed, nuclear power appeared to have a negative learning curve even back then.
I asked energy expert Dr. Jon Koomey, a consulting professor at Stanford, if he would do a more detailed study of this question. His excellent graph-filled analysis is below, done with the input of other leading energy experts, and co-authored by Nate Hultman, Associate Director of Univ. of MD’s Joint Global Change Research Institute. They conclude: