Rural America Gets Ready for Wave of New Nukes
The Susquehanna nuclear power station from the air. The plant is located in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, south and west of Wilkes-Barre. Photographer apdonovan used the "tilt-shift" technique to make this massive structure look like a toy model.
No new nuclear reactor has opened in the United States since 1996 — and no reactor has been ordered since ’76 — but the nuke drought is about to end. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission expects shortly to be reviewing applications for 32 new nuclear reactors — a downpour of construction brought about in part by new federal incentives.
The nukes will be built in rural America, of course — just as new coal-fired or gas-powered plants will be. They will be located mostly in the South. (See chart below for locations.) Texas is slated to be home to the most new nukes, stretching from “around Amarillo" in the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast plains south and west of Houston.
Reactor sites long ago abandoned are being spiffed up and are headed for full production. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which in 1985 closed its Browns Ferry plant in northern Alabama, will spend $1.8 billion to restart the reactor. Duke Energy left a partially constructed reactor in Cherokee County, South Carolina, two decades ago, but is now coming back.
The large number of applications for new reactors is in part a result of new federal incentives. A 2005 law “provides tax credits of up to $125 million for eight years, loan guarantees for up to 80 percent of a plant's cost, shared application costs and insurance that would cover the costs of regulatory delay," according to a Washington Post article on the revived nuclear industry. The benefits, however, are limited, restricted to probably the first four to six reactors.
Nuclear power is being reconsidered because it doesn’t contribute to global warming, and because the 103 licensed reactors now operating have proved to be increasingly efficient producers of electricity. These reactors are producing at about 90 percent of their total capacity; in the 1980s, reactors were producing at only 65 percent of capacity.
The Congressional Research Service predicts that it will take ten to fifteen years for a new nuke to go from application to lights on — probably closer to fifteen than ten.
In all the reports on the surging nuclear industry there is very little discussion of what a reactor means for a community. Here we’d like to learn from Yonder readers.
What are the benefits of living near a nuclear reactor? Downsides? Have you really benefited from increased property taxes — and have those taxes bettered local schools? Also, does having a nuke in the neighborhood spur business or does it shoo development away?
Close to two dozen rural communities are going to be asking these questions shortly. Can anybody from those communities tell us what your concerns are, your hopes?
Meanwhile, here is the latest Nuclear Regulatory Commission list of actual and potential applications for new licenses.