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The bumpy road to nuclear energy

Of the 182 construction permits granted by government commissions, 50 were abandoned in construction with billions in investment lost and 28 were closed before their 40-year licenses expired.

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A worker monitors operations at Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon, Vt. The US has 104 reactors, producing 20 percent of the nation’s electric power.

Toby Talbot/AP

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In 1974, President Nixon announced Project Independence – a plan to build 1,000 nuclear stations. But of the 253 reactors eventually ordered by the US electric industry, 71 were canceled before construction began, according to a tally by the antinuclear group Beyond Nuclear.

Of the 182 construction permits granted by government commissions, 50 were abandoned in construction with billions in investment lost and 28 were closed before their 40-year licenses expired – including the Three Mile Island plant’s Unit 2.

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Gary McCool knows all about the financial pitfalls of nuclear power. Thirty years ago the Plymouth State College reference librarian warned managers at his tiny New Hampshire Electric Cooperative that its plan to purchase 2 percent of the new Seabrook nuclear power plant’s generating output when it was completed could push the coop into bankruptcy – or perhaps produce the highest electric rates in the nation.

It turned out to be both. Today he’s still paying the price of nuclear power – even though his coop no longer purchases any. There on his monthly bill is a $6.06 charge for “stranded costs” – the cost of paying off the coop’s adventure into Seabrook.

It was a calamity echoed nationwide. Several government-owned power companies, including the Washington Public Power System, went bankrupt. Other investor-owned utilities, such as Long Island Lighting Company and Consumers Power, were nearly bankrupted.

This is a sidebar to the full story, Nuclear power’s new debate: cost