USA – nuclear

April 2018: According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. has 61 commercially operating nuclear power stations with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 states. Together, they account for about 20% of the electricity produced in the U.S., per the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. link  Despite a near halt in new construction of more than 30 years, US reliance on nuclear power has grown. In 1980, nuclear plants accounted for 11% of the country’s electricity generation. In 2008, that output had risen to nearly 20% of electricity, providing more than 30% of the electricity generated from nuclear power worldwide. [The 104 nuclear reactors currently operating in the United States use between 25,000 and 27,500 tons of uranium oxide per year.] 


  • The collapse of nuclear in the USA
  • Waste storage problems
  • The hold-up with new reactors in the USA
  • Vogtle plant in Georgia
The collapse of nuclear in the USA

May 2018: The 60-year downfall of nuclear power in the U.S. has left a huge mess. Hanford is a $100 billion cleanup burden, full of accidents waiting to happen. It is the biggest headache, but very far from being the only one, emerging in what increasingly look like the final years of America’s nuclear age. It is 60 years since America’s first commercial nuclear power station was opened, but the hopes of a nuclear future with power “too cheap to meter” are now all but over. All that is left is the trillion-dollar cleanup. Cleaning up and safely disposing of the residues of the nuclear adventure – much of it waste with a half-life measured in tens of thousands of years – is turning into a trillion-dollar nightmare for the nation. link

July 2017: Nuclear comeback stalls as two reactors abandoned in South Carolina.
In a major blow to the future of nuclear power in the United States, two South Carolina utilities said that they would abandon two unfinished nuclear reactors in the state, putting an end to a project that was once expected to showcase advanced nuclear technology but has since been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The two reactors, which have cost the utilities roughly $9 billion, remain less than 40% built.  The cancellation means there are just two new nuclear units being built in the country, both in Georgia. link

April 2018: Westinghouse CEO admits that the 2000s “nuclear renaissance” was never going to happen. The CEO of the U.S. nuclear power firm Westinghouse Electric Co., which used to be under the Toshiba Corp. umbrella and which filed for bankruptcy in March 2017, said that the “nuclear renaissance” in the 2000s “was not realistic.” link  (See Vogtle below)

August 2017: U.S. nuclear power plants are ‘bleeding cash’. The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive now that over half of all existing U.S. nuclear power plants are “bleeding cash” according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, which found that $2.9 billion is lost every year by just 55% of all the nuclear plants in the United States. link

October 2016: First new US nuclear reactor in 20 years enters operation. The Tennessee Valley Authority’s 1,150MW Watts Bar 2 reactor is officially online and producing electricity for to 650,000 homes and businesses. Construction on the reactor began in 1973 but was put on hold in 1985. Officials restarted work on the project in 2007, and it was finally completed last year at a cost of $4.7 billion. link

August 2012: U.S. freezes all nuclear power plant licensing decisions. A ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit led federal nuclear regulators to freeze at least 19 final reactor licensing decisions in response to the ruling that spent nuclear fuel stored on-site at nuclear power plants “poses a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk.” link

April 2011: In Southeastern US, extreme heat is a growing concern for nuclear plant operators – link

 Nuclear waste storage issues

A typical nuclear power plant generates 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel each year. The nuclear industry generates a total of about 2,000 – 2,300 metric tons of used fuel per year. Over the past four decades, the entire industry has produced 76,430 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. Low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) consists of items that have come in contact with radioactive materials, such as gloves, personal protective clothing, tools, water purification filters and resins, plant hardware, and wastes from reactor cooling-water cleanup systems. It generally has levels of radioactivity that decay to background radioactivity levels in less than 500 years. About 95% decays to background levels within 100 years or less. link

October 2013: America’s radioactive waste growing. About 13% of America’s 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That’s the most held in any state. Across the country, atomic power plants have become de facto major radioactive waste-management operations. With no place to send their waste, power plants in 30 states which generate about 20% of the nation’s electricity are doubling as dumps for spent fuel that remains dangerous for thousands of years. The spent fuel needs repackaging every 100 years for half a million years in the future. link

May 2014: US plants prepare long-term nuclear waste storage. As of May 2013, the U.S. nuclear industry had 69,720 tons of uranium waste with 49,620 tons in pools and 20,100 in dry storage, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute industry group. Spent nuclear fuel is about 95% uranium. About 1% is other heavy elements such as curium, americium and plutonium-239. Each has an extremely long half-life, some take hundreds of thousands of years to lose all of their radioactive potency. link

June 2014: Hanford – America’s most contaminated nuclear waste site. Despite some progress, the site’s most complicated and potentially dangerous waste issue – 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste sitting inside tanks at the centre of the site – is facing more problems. Hanford, in Washington State, has long been the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US and critics say poor management has put the site in further danger. Clean-up operation has already cost $40bn and is expected to continue for decades. Hanford is where the US produced plutonium used in the Manhattan Project, for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, and for a Cold War stockpile. link

Carlsbad WIPP nuclear waste leak

August 2016: Carlsbad accident ranks among the costliest in U.S. history  link 

June 2015: Feds say WIPP recovery efforts months behindlink  June 2014: The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) approximately 26 miles east of Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico, is America’s only nuclear waste repository. Mid-March 2014 WIPP suffered a surface radiation release almost twice the levels released in February. WIPP was designed to isolate highly radioactive nuclear weapons waste from the environment for 10,000 years. It went 15 years before its first leak of radioactivity into the above-ground environment. Radiation levels in the storage area where the original leak occurred are possibly as lethal as Fukushima, hampering efforts to determine the source, cause, and scale of the February leak. More than five months after the February accident, officials still have no certain understanding of what went wrong. It is generally thought that one 55-gallon drum of waste (perhaps more than one) overheated and burst, spilling radioactive waste in a part of the storage area designated a “High Contamination Area.”  The room holds 258 containers, tightly stacked and packed wall-to-wall, with no aisles to allow easy access. link  

February 2014: New Mexico WIPP – partial nuclear waste solution. Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds in New Mexico left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons. The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years. However the material buried is limited by law to plutonium waste from making weapons, which is exceptionally long-lived but not highly radioactive. link  

 The hold-up with new reactors in the USA

April 2010: Design for new nuclear reactor less safe than America’s current fleet.
A coalition of 12 environmental groups put U.S. nuclear energy regulators on the hot seat this week by declaring that the leading design for new reactors is unsafe and appealing to officials to investigate. The AP1000, designed by Westinghouse Electric Company, is considered central to the success of a domestic nuclear revival. Currently, 14 such plants are under regulatory review at seven sites across the American Southeast. link

June 2011: Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design critically flawed  NC WARN

December 2011: Westinghouse AP1000 design approved. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the radical new reactor design, clearing away a major obstacle for two utilities to begin construction in South Carolina and Georgia. The four reactors to be built are the only survivors in what had been envisioned as a bigger field of new plants that narrowed over the last three years as investors ran into financial and other obstacles. In fact, it is not clear whether ground will be broken on any additional reactors soon; industry experts say the biggest obstacle is that the price of natural gas remains quite low, making it difficult to produce electricity from a reactor at a price competitive with electricity from a gas-burning plant. link  (Update – the two reactors in South Carolina have been scrapped.)

February 2010: To understand why the U.S. hasn’t built a nuclear reactor in three decades, the Vogtle power plant in Georgia is an excellent reminder of the insanity of nuclear economics. The plant’s original cost estimate was less than $1 billion for four reactors. Its eventual price tag in 1989 was nearly $9 billion, for only two reactors. The estimated cost is now $14 billion. Recent studies have priced new nuclear power at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, about four times the cost of producing juice with new wind or coal plants, or 10 times the cost of reducing the need for electricity through investments in efficiency. link

 Georgia’s controversial new Vogtle plant.

December 2017: Vogtle project declared uneconomic. The public service commissioners will decide February 2018 whether to let the project go forward after saying power station “is no longer economic” given huge cost overruns, construction delays and the burden that would be placed on ratepayers while the company profits. Completion date has been pushed back to 2021. The Vogtle project, whose cost estimates have ballooned from $14 billion in 2008 to approximately $23 billion, was once seen as part of a wave of new nuclear power stations. Today the two reactors are the only ones under construction in the United States. link

February 2017: More troubles for Vogtle – the financial fallout of Toshiba Corp’s nuclear construction business hits the Georgia plant – link

March 2012: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) voted to allow construction of two nuclear reactors near Augusta, Georgia based on the AP1000 type nuclear reactors designed by Westinghouse. link  (According to the US Dept. of Energy, the last reactor built in the USDA was the ‘River Bend’ plant in Louisiana; its construction began in 1977.)

February 2014: Plant needs federal loans to construct. The Energy Department is poised to approve $6.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for the first nuclear power plant built from scratch in this country in more than three decades. Energy Secretary Moniz was expected to announce final approval of the deal a day before he visits the $14 billion Vogtle nuclear plant now under construction in eastern Georgia. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is building the plant with several partners about 30 miles southeast of Augusta, Ga. The project is widely considered a major test of whether the industry can build nuclear plants without the endemic delays and cost overruns that plagued earlier rounds of building in the 1970s. Vogtle was originally estimated to cost around $14 billion, but government monitors have warned the final cost is likely to be higher. The Energy Department tentatively approved an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for the project in 2010 as part of President Barack Obama’s pledge to expand nuclear and other energy sources. link  (Photo – inside look at containment unit in Plant Vogtle’s Unit 3 – credit Georgia Power)

February 2015: More delays. Originally expected to come online in 2016 when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the go-ahead for construction and operation in 2012, the project has experienced repeated delays that have  now pushed back the startup date to mid-2019 for Unit 3 and mid-2020 for Unit 4. Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power owns 46% of the project. Its costs were originally estimated at $6.1 billion but have grown to $7.4 billion with delays and overruns. link