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Another Eleven U.S. Nuclear Plants May Close, Threatening New Technology and R&D

Dec. 19, 2018 (EIRNS)—The crisis in the U.S. nuclear electric utility industry continues, with another 11 operating nuclear power plants under threat of closure by 2025. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the peak for operating reactors, at 112, was in 1990. As of August this year, there were 98.

An article published in U.A.E. daily The National on Dec. 17, begins by comparing the imminent shutdown of Three Mile Island, with a loss of 700 jobs, to the growing orders for nuclear plants in the Middle East and North Africa. By 2030, the region is set to add more than 15 GW of nuclear capacity, a “quantum leap” from zero currently.

It goes on to describe a July paper on the role of nuclear power in as a “low-carbon wedge” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors studying the future of the U.S. nuclear power industry are not optimistic, even about the new generation of smaller reactors. While these SMRs are more efficient than the current generation, their capital cost is made significantly higher than comparable natural gas plants, and the siting, safety and licensing procedures are more complex and time consuming.

None of these cost factors, however, is a fact of nature, no matter the plant size. From the higher interest rates charged by Wall Street to allegedly “high-risk” nuclear, to the regulatory over-kill and hysteria about safety, they are all political, not physical or technical factors, which artificially make nuclear “too expensive.” As a result, only one new nuclear plant has come online in the U.S. in this century, and the country has an industry that is in decline.

As the fleet of operating nuclear power plants shrinks, so, too, does the pool of experienced, skilled engineers and operators, along with the capacity of the manufacturing industry, and the investment in R&D. And the industry is quickly reaching that of a poor-nation status.

John Quelch, the dean of the Miami Business School, is quoted by The National: “Innovation lags when you don’t have the opportunity to bring your ideas to commercial reality. If you need a nuclear power station today, you’d buy it from China, France, Korea, or Russia.”

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