The opening of a new nuclear power plant reactor near Savannah, Ga., on July 31 was indicative of the challenges the industry has faced in recent years — and of the changes boosters say are being made to ensure that nuclear power can serve as a key component of a 21st century energy portfolio.Amid the rapid growth of renewables like wind and solar, nuclear power may seem like a source of electricity from the past.
But wind and solar are intermittent sources, which aren’t produced when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, meaning dirty old coal and natural gas are still widely used to provide a reliable, steady supply of power.That reality has led experts and policymakers such as Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to advocate for building up the nation’s nuclear energy portfolio as a cleaner source of base load power until renewables can meet a greater share of the demand.Read more on Yahoo News: U.S.
Support for Nuclear Power Soars, via GizmodoA tempting but expensive betA worker walks past steam pipes at Plant Vogtle on Jan.
(John Bazemore/AP)Nuclear fission can produce vast amounts of energy without emitting greenhouse gases or other forms of air pollution.
But after the Three Mile Island accident in central Pennsylvania in 1979, where a reactor partially melted down and prompted the evacuation of 140,000 people, and the deadly Chernobyl disaster in Soviet Ukraine in 1986, desire for new nuclear plants plummeted — and never really recovered.There are only 93 nuclear reactors operating across the country, making the United States 11th globally in the share of power it produces from nuclear energy per capita.Two new reactors at Plant Vogtle — where two reactors had originally opened in the late 1980s — were supposed to usher in a new era of nuclear energy.
But the Vogtle project, along with another one in South Carolina known as V.C.
Summer, faced cost overruns, construction delays and safety concerns.V.C.
Summer was eventually canceled, while Vogtle dragged on.
Originally projected to cost $14 billion, the Georgia project wound up costing $31 billion and was completed seven years behind schedule.So when Unit 3 of Plant Vogtle finally began sending electricity to customers in Georgia several weeks ago, it was a landmark moment — and a warning.
Unit 3 (with Unit 4 soon to follow) was the first new nuclear reactor to come online in the United States in nearly a half-century, during which time fears of a Three Mile Island-style catastrophe have been replaced by concerns about the disastrous effects of continuing to burn fossil fuels.According to Georgia Power, a fully operational Unit 3 can supply 1,100 megawatts, powering “500,000 homes and businesses.” But because the reactor was so lavishly expensive, ratepayers will have to foot some of the excess cost, with customers seeing their energy bills increasing by $14 per month in the near future.Read more on Yahoo News: Does nuclear power have a place in a green-energy future?Better technology is coming, boosters promiseA closer look at the cooling towers for Units 3 and 4 at Plant Vogtle.
(Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)Nuclear supporters insist that renewables, which now constitute around a fifth of all the energy produced in the United States, are simply not ready to power a nation of 335 million people — and that the challenges that plagued Plant Vogtle need not define the entire nuclear energy industry.The third Vogtle reactor is an AP1000 model built by Westinghouse.
Approved by regulators for construction in 2005, the AP1000 proved difficult to build, and the cost overruns at Vogtle and V.C.
Summer, the never-completed South Carolina plant, led Westinghouse to declare bankruptcy in 2017.The company has since emerged from financial calamity and recently introduced the AP300, a small reactor that supplies less electricity than the AP1000 but will also be easier to build.
The market for these smaller “modular” reactors is expected to grow energetically in the next several years, as the need to phase out fossil fuels becomes ever more urgent.Westinghouse is hoping to build the first AP300 reactors for commercial use in Slovakia and the United Kingdom.Read more on Yahoo News: Small modular nuclear reactors: The race is on to actually build them, via Canary MediaSome remain unconvincedThe New Safe Confinement structure over the old sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in 2021.
(Gleb Garanich/Reuters)Yet the new AP300 models have their critics too.
Those critics are unconvinced that the new reactor is much of an upgrade over the AP1000 model.
So even as the Tennessee Valley Authority is planning to build as many as 20 small reactors, known as BWRX-300, that are similar to the AP300, some are wondering if it wouldn’t just be safer to use the older AP1000 model.“Why are y’all building four 300-megawatt reactors that haven’t been built anywhere instead of an AP1000?” one regulator wondered.Others simply believe that the risks of nuclear energy are too great — and that the resources being devoted to building new reactors would be better spent on developing renewable sources.And though nuclear power doesn’t emit greenhouse gases or other atmospheric pollutants, it leaves behind radioactive waste that most communities want nothing to do with.This past spring, Germany shut down its final three reactors, a transition it began after the massive 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.“It is not simply ideological speculation.
There is a very real danger that is posed by this power plant and by all nuclear power plants around the world,” one antinuclear German activist said.
“And that’s why I think it’s so particularly important that we in Germany manage to phase out nuclear power.
Because if we manage to do that, then maybe the other countries will think about what they could do better.”Read more on Yahoo News: Nuclear energy backers say it’s vital for the fight against global warming.
Don’t be so sure, via Los Angeles Times View comments