As Vermont Yankee prepares to refuel once again, it bears mentioning that the prospects of a nuclear energy future for America are looking ever dimmer .
In an interesting blog-post on the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it’s deputy editor, John Mecklin lays out the case against any longterm expectations for energy nukes in the U.S.
Mr. Mecklin maintains that it is the very inability of the industry to adapt and reform itself that will ultimately force it to fail. He quotes former NRC commissioner, Peter Bradford, who wrote the following:
“How to close the US nuclear industry: Do nothing.”
The problem the nuclear industry faces is that, just as the original generation of nukes began to age-out, the catastrophe of Fukushima undermined its plans for quietly negotiating a new generation on the same preferential terms as the originals.
The underlying economic fib was inevitably laid bare to public scrutiny; and rationalizations were found wanting.
Even though President Obama once seemed more than willing to streamline the industry’s access to permits and incentives, the political realities of the situation have intruded a few too many times to be ignored.
Already sensitized to bad news by fall-out from the Japanese events, and mindful of worldwide controversy and pull-backs; Wall Street predictably started throwing stuff overboard and preparing to abandon ship.
The disinclination of the NRC to critical self-examination, exacerbated by sensational public infighting, only served to reinforce the market sense of ill-omen.
Mr. Mecklin points out that think-tanks at MIT and the Rocky Mountain Institute have been actively running predictive exercises concerning America’s nuclear future. Both include possible scenarios in which current levels of nuclear power generation would be maintained, and ones in which it would be greatly reduced or phased out by 2050.
Judging from information in Mr. Mecklin’s comments, not even MIT, which has close industry ties, is including a scenario in which current levels would increase.
In fact, the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is described as
a nonprofit that focuses on efficiency and renewable resources,
suggests that the phase-out of aging transmission infrastructure, in which the entire grid will have to be completely replaced by 2050, will likely mean the permanent end of nuclear power. The new transmission system will not be built to accommodate the peculiarities of nuclear generation, but rather to deliver better alternatives in more efficient ways.
With those projections in the mix, how likely is it that the advantages given to nuclear at its inception, half-a-century ago, will be enjoyed by new nuke projects going forward? And how much longer will the industry enjoy its “insurance holiday” (Price-Anderson) granted in those early days to make investment more attractive.
As anyone who lives within the evacuation zone surrounding Vermont Yankee will probably tell you, it can’t come soon enough.