In spite of the climate crisis driven by unclean forms of energy generation, nuclear power has remained rather dormant in the US for the past three decades.
Half of the nation’s 104 active nuclear reactors are more than 30 years old, licenses to build new reactors have not been given out since 1978, and the nuclear meltdown that happened the following year at The Three Mile Island only made matters worse. Now, the US has decided to give nuclear technology another shot with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval to build two new reactors in Georgia that are scheduled to come online in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The US recently approved new reactors that will be built at the Vogtle nuclear plant site using Westinghouse’s AP1000 passively cooled reactor design.
Nuclear power has received a bad rap due to safety speculation from meltdowns faced by a handful of power plant sites, most notably Japan’s recent Fukushima disaster. Currently, 18 percent of the nation’s energy is provided by nuclear power -- the US expects that number to remain around the 20 percent marker from now until 2035, as the new reactors will primarily replace aging ones. Nonetheless, questions remain on the viability of nuclear power generation on both the economic and environmental fronts.
President Obama has already expressed his intention to back nuclear plant financing with an $8.3 billion Department of Energy loan that will aid in the construction of the new plant sites.
The 2,200 MW of power expected from the new reactors will implement Westinghouse’s design that utilizes a passive-cooling system using gravity and condensation to cool the fuel rods; this effectively eliminates the power failure issue that caused the recent meltdown in Japan.
In addition to the new reactors being built at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, 16 other plants across the US have already applied for licenses to build 25 new reactors. The apparent “nuclear renaissance” that is now underway might be a cause of inner turmoil in the eye of environmentalists. The nuclear waste generated by plant sites is highly radioactive and very damaging to the environment if not properly contained. As of now, waste is stored at plant sites while research on novel ways of disposing the waste continues. However, nuclear power essentially offers a low carbon emission technology that provides electricity to millions of homes.
Taking Fukushima into consideration, is the move a step in the right direction?