The “ghost” of Three Mile Island has apparently been banished, because the U.S. is now starting to build more nuclear power capacity. There is an interesting counterpoint to this. Just at a time when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives the green light to commence construction of a reactor of new safer design, the Westinghouse AP1000 (pictured at left), some companies that had planned to add nuclear power plants are delaying or scrapping this decision because very low natural gas prices can make gas turbine-driven power cheaper than power from nuclear reactors.
The global ambivalence about nuclear energy continues. Concerned about the Japanese experience with a calamitous earthquake and tsunami, Germany, where the Greens have strong political clout, is phasing out its nuclear plants while buying more and more nuclear power from France and the Czechc Republic(!!??). In Westchester County there is a strong push by Governor Cuomo to shut down the Indian Point plant due to its proximity to millions of inhabitants (The Long Island Lighting Power Authority nuclear plant at Shoreham was built several decades ago but was never started up). Earthquake worries have been voiced over nuclear power plants in Virginia and California.
The new U.S. plants being built by Southern Company near Augusta, Ga. will use the new 1,154 megawatt AP1000 reactor under part of an $18.5 billion government loan guarantee. The new design, already used in four new plants in China, has a number of features that would shut the plant down safely and keep the core from meltdown in the event of loss of all electric power, a main cause for the massive radiation leak at the Japanese plant. Two more such plants are scheduled to be built in South Carolina and the TWA is finally completing the construction of a plant in 2013 in Tennessee., which will be the first U.S. nuclear power plant started up for several decades.
As part of the U.S. manufacturing “revival”, a new uranium rod fabrication plant is now operating in New Mexico and three others are planned in the U.S. These are needed because 2013 will see the end of an agreement with Russia, where enriched uranium from decommissioned nuclear warheads was blended into low level enriched fuel used in U.S. nuclear reactors.