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More Nukes, Please

A new reactor serves ratepayers — but not here.

Even if your interest in nuclear energy is close to zero, you probably heard yesterday’s big news about the Alvin W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant. CNBC, the Associated Press, POLITICO, the Financial Times, “public” radio, Agence France Presse — many major-media outlets covered the announcement that Unit 3 “has entered commercial operation and is now serving customers and the State of Georgia.”

It’s an encouraging development for air quality in the American Southeast, and solace for those who understand that a technologically advanced society needs reliable electricity. But there’s no denying that when put in perspective, the news is a bit … underwhelming. Prior to yesterday’s progress, during the last quarter-century, only one new reactor (Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 2) had come online in the United States.

A decade and a half ago, the future looked very different. Back then, a “nuclear renaissance” was said to be underway. In 2008, The New York Times reported that after “three decades without starting a single new plant, the American nuclear power industry is getting ready to build again.” The following year, The Wall Street Journal wrote that “the nuclear power industry is moving ahead with plans to build a string of new reactors,” with 26 applications before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Nearly every proposed project fizzled, well before construction commenced. Greenfield stations, and expansions at existing plants, failed to materialize in Mississippi, Illinois, South Carolina, Maryland, Florida, Michigan, Virginia — and Texas.

In 2011, the South Texas Nuclear Generating Station abandoned its blueprint to add two reactors. In 2012, Exelon walked away from creation of the Victoria County Station. In 2013, the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant ended its intention to upgrade from two to four reactors.

Today, the American Southwest is, sadly, something of an atomic ghetto. In 2021, five of our region’s eight states produced no utility-scale nuclear power. Arizona’s share of total generation was 29.1 percent, thanks to the behemoth that is the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. California was at 8.4 percent, and Texas, 8.3 percent.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for nuclear’s stillborn rebound. Private-sector bungling, regulatory madness, NIMBYism, tough competition from natural gas, massive subsidies to wind and solar — take your pick. But with Vogtle’s Unit 3 up and running, let’s hope July 31, 2023 marks a turning point. Whether it’s traditional-size reactors or smaller, modular designs, excluding nuclear from the nation’s fleet of power stations is, to be blunt, asinine.

Potent. Efficient. Reliable. Safe. Fission-based electricity generation is needed in America — particularly for rapidly growing regions like ours. Let’s not squander another couple decades on wishful thinking. More than ever, go-nukes proponents need to make their voices heard.

By D. Dowd Muska

Dowd brings nearly 30 years of research and writing experience to the Institute. A veteran of several think tanks, he is an expert on government at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels.

Raised on an apple orchard in the Connecticut River Valley, D. Dowd Muska is a researcher, writer, editor, and commentator. His focus is the nexus of fiscal policy, economic development, and technology.

Mr. Muska is the author of numerous policy studies, and his writing has appeared in newspapers throughout the nation, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Detroit News, the Orlando Sentinel, the Cape Cod Times, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Hartford Courant, the Waco Tribune-Herald, the Albuquerque Journal, the New Haven Register, and The Oklahoman. A graduate of The George Washington University, he lives in the Albuquerque metro area, but has started (very) early planning for a relocation to the Sierra Blanca in Lincoln County, New Mexico. He recently launched the Substack platform No Dowd About It.

One reply on “More Nukes, Please”

It is crystal clear that the U.S. will not achieve anything close to our decarbonization goals without nuclear. The reason is land requirements for wind and solar – already the opposition is fierce across the U.S., and we would need to expand our current installations by 10 or more times to meet energy needs. Unfortunately, there is not currently a risk and cost-feasible nuclear technology available, although a dozen companies are working to bring one to market. New Mexico is possibly the last state that will need nuclear, since our combined wind and solar cost of energy is the lowest in the U.S.

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