Japan's crisis could hinder U.S. nuclear efforts

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Japan's reactor crisis has renewed anxiety about nuclear safety and could derail efforts to revive the U.S. industry as a clean alternative energy source.

The failure of the Japanese reactors' backup cooling systems and the explosions that followed are likely to lead U.S. regulators to re-evaluate nuclear plant designs and safety. The heightened scrutiny could increase costs for new and existing reactors, and make it harder to raise money for new plants.

The crisis comes just as the U.S. nuclear energy industry is starting to build the first new reactors in a generation.

"This accident has the potential to tamp down any nuclear renaissance that we're poised to experience," said Tim Echols, a utility regulator in Georgia who supports expanded nuclear power.

Before the crisis, the U.S. nuclear industry was enjoying more public and political backing than it had in years -- 62 percent of the public, according to a Gallup poll done last year. That support grew out of concerns about greenhouse gases, a growing record of safe and profitable nuclear power production and volatile fossil fuel prices.

In Washington, nuclear energy was a rare issue on which the Obama administration and congressional Republicans agreed. President George W. Bush established an $18.5 billion loan guarantee program to help build new plants. President Obama wants to raise that to $54.5 billion. Obama has also included nuclear power in his plan for a clean-energy standard.

Nuclear power generation emits no carbon dioxide, a damaging greenhouse gas. And unlike wind or solar, nuclear reactors produce huge amounts of power, uninterrupted, for months. The 104 commercial reactors in the U.S. supply about 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

But only two of nearly three dozen nuclear plants that were proposed in the middle of the last decade remain on track to be built. Low electricity prices and the huge expense of building plants have contributed to the delay.

Industry analysts say few, if any, could be built without government loan guarantees, a low-carbon energy mandate, or both. That government help is predicated on support from a public that might have suddenly grown more fearful about the safety of nuclear power after the Japan crisis.

The two projects that appear to be furthest along, both with regulators and financing, are in the Southeast.

The Atlanta-based Southern Co. and its partners are seeking to build two more reactors at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Ga.. And SCANA, based in Cayce, S.C., has proposed adding two reactors to its Plant Summer site in Jenkinsville, S.C.

Both utilities have said they expect to be granted operating licenses this year and insist their projects will proceed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is still evaluating both.

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BLUECOLLARBULLY 03/17/11 - 08:11 am
As well as it should. The

As well as it should. The Nuclear lobby needs to be shut down and Obama needs to back track on this. Nuclear power is just to dangerous.
You can see what happend in the Ukraine.

gaspringwater 03/17/11 - 05:13 pm
People tend to forget but

People tend to forget but rest assured we'll get reminded from time to time about the hazards of nuclear. It's an inherently dangerous business. In 1957 an earthquake started a fire at a nuclear plant and released an unknown amount of contamination at Windscale, Culverland, England. Human error caused a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 and the cleanup cost billions of dollars. Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded 1986 and sent a radioactive cloud over much of Europe and Scandinavia. A fire at the Nonju Breeder Reactor west of Tokyo caused fallout levels equivalent to more than 200 atomic bombs of the type dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. An explosion occurred in 1993 at a nuclear plant in Siberia thought to be making weapons grade material. Contamination and casualties are unknown and the area is still closed. And Fukushima is unfolding in Japan. Read a CBS list of nuclear accidents:


Nuclear buffs say we need to learn from accidents and tweak our nuclear program . Instead, we need to revise our thinking on apocalypse, i.e., Conquest, War, Famine, Death and Nuclear.

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