Skip to main content

Less than nine months through, 2013 is already a remarkable year for the anti-nuclear power movement in the U.S.  Where Germany is following a deliberate government-mandated path to phase out nuclear power entirely, in the U.S. the atomic industry is simply collapsing on its own—aided by concerted and strategic grassroots organizing campaigns and legal actions.

Entergy Corporation’s August 27 announcement of the pending shutdown of the Vermont Yankee reactor at the end of its current fuel cycle was just the latest blow to the industry, which already has seen four other reactor shutdowns (the most in one year ever) and the abandonment of six proposed new reactors, not to mention cancellation of five planned power uprates. And more may be coming.

As economist Marc Cooper of the Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment put it, "What we are seeing today is nothing less than the rapid-fire downsizing of nuclear power in the United States. It is important to recognize that the tough times the U.S. nuclear power industry faces today are only going to get worse.”

And indeed, there are several—perhaps the word should be many—other reactors, both operating and proposed—that sit on the edge of the same intersection of cost and safety concerns that are bringing the industry down faster than anyone would have imagined just a year ago.

Conventional wisdom holds that it is the current abundance and dirt-cheap prices for natural gas brought about by the fracking boom that is undermining nuclear power, making it impossible for marginal aging reactors to compete economically, much less for utilities to even consider extraordinarily expensive new reactors. When Duke Energy took a second look at its $24 billion Levy County, Florida project for example, it didn’t take long for it to realize it could build the same amount of natural gas-fired capacity for a fraction of that amount.

Conventional wisdom isn’t always wrong. And the availability of cheap natural gas is certainly taking its toll on the industry. There is no doubt that Wisconsin’s Kewaunee reactor—by all accounts about as problem-free as an old reactor gets—would still be operating today if it could compete with low-cost gas. The UBS investment firm predicted Vermont Yankee’s demise months ago, arguing that it couldn’t compete in the regional marketplace.

But over the long term, natural gas isn’t what the nuclear industry should be most worried about.

Clean alternatives to nuclear power, especially solar and wind, are growing at a frenetic pace as costs plunge. A rooftop photovoltaic system is now being installed in the U.S. every four minutes, and that will become every 90 seconds by 2016.  John Wellinghoff, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said in August 2013 that “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything.” If a single drop of water on the pitcher’s mound at Dodger Stadium is doubled every minute, Wellinghoff said, a person chained to the highest seat would be in danger of drowning in an hour. “That’s what is happening in solar. It could double every two years," he said.

The goal of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system by mid-century suddenly seems quite attainable.

According to the Energy Information Administration, for the first five months of 2013, renewable energy sources (including hydropower) provided 18.48% more energy to the U.S. than nuclear power. Solar grew by 32.26% from a year ago while wind grew by 20.99%, continuing a trend of the past few years. And this actually underestimates solar power: non-utility and small-scale (residential and commercial rooftop) photovoltaic systems don’t show up as electric generation since to the utilities that provide generation statistics they represent only a reduction in demand.

Indeed, no one seems to know just how much rooftop solar power there is in the U.S., but with a new installation every four minutes, the amount is growing rapidly.

This movement toward small-scale distributed generation is turning the traditional utility model on its head and in the process scaring the pants off of utility officials. David Crane is CEO of NRG Energy, itself a major utility and operator of the two existing South Texas nuclear reactors. But after Fukushima, NRG dropped out of a project to build two new reactors there and is now betting heavily on solar power. Crane recently predicted to Business Week that “in about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy.”

This coming change in the fundamental structure of electric utilities bodes poorly for large baseload power plants of any kind—especially nuclear reactors which cannot be powered up and down quickly--and has become another reason utilities are scrapping marginal power plants, both nuclear and coal.

Still, dinosaurs thrashing their tails didn’t always go down easily, and neither do nuclear reactors. They have to be helped along by effective grassroots opposition.

No one can doubt that Southern California Edison would still be trying to run the San Onofre reactors, even after their botched steam generator repair job, if it weren’t for the sustained and stunningly-effective opposition mounted by Friends of the Earth and numerous grassroots groups in southern California, aided by the Nuclear Free California network formed in August 2011.

At Vermont Yankee, the history of protest and opposition dates back to the 1970s. While Clamshell Alliance protests at Seabrook were larger and got more attention, Vermont Yankee was a Clamshell target as well. The New England Coalition has been filing legal challenges in every venue possible for just about as long.

After having successfully closed the Yankee Rowe reactor in nearby western Massachusetts, the Citizens Awareness Network turned its attention to Vermont Yankee and the first Nuclear Free New England action camp was held there in 1998. I was one of 21 people arrested at the plant gates at the culmination of that camp on August 27, 1998, along with lifelong activist David Dellinger and two future chairs of NIRS’ board of directors. The reactor closed 15 years later to the day.

During those 15 years, CAN, the New England Coalition, VPIRG and more protested, lobbied, filed legal briefs, and never let up. New groups were formed, like the Shut It Down affinity group—composed entirely of women over 70—which held monthly protests for more than eight years and often were arrested and the Sage Alliance, an umbrella group which brought together perhaps the largest Vermont Yankee protest ever in March 2012, more than 1,000 people in Brattleboro (which has a population of about 12,000), resulting in more than 130 arrests.

By the end, just about the entire state of Vermont was united against the reactor. The State Senate had voted 26-4 to close the reactor. The Governor wanted it shut, so did the entire Congressional delegation. Entergy had fought vigorously against all these efforts, and in early August had pretty much won a court victory that determined the state could not close the reactor on safety grounds, and that it was safety issues that had dominated the Senate’s vote (though the decision left open the door for some different state actions that might have closed the reactor). Some believe that Entergy closed the reactor now to keep that court victory as a precedent and prevent other state action that might also be viewed as precedent—Entergy also owns the much larger Indian Point reactors near New York City, where another major grassroots campaign, supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is underway to prevent relicensing and close them permanently. In addition, Entergy's Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts, also owned by Entergy, is subject to the same economic pressures as Vermont Yankee (and suffers from the same deficient GE Mark I reactor design), and has been receiving increased scrutiny and criticism from the Commonwealth, including Governor Deval.

The nuclear “renaissance” in the U.S. began in the summer of 2007, when the first license application in more than 30 years was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for the Calvert Cliffs-3 reactor in Maryland. On March 11, 2013—the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster—the NRC Commissioners upheld the denial of a license for that reactor, the first in this year’s remarkable sequence of shutdowns, cancellations and abandonments. All that’s left are two reactors under construction in Georgia (which state officials now admit they might not have approved in today’s climate), two in South Carolina, one old TVA reactor that’s been under construction for three decades and a few license applications that haven’t yet been formally dropped.

Instead of a renaissance, the nuclear industry is being routed. Its aging reactors face safety issues, big repair bills and growing public opposition. Its new reactors are too expensive to build. And, scariest of all for nuclear utilities, their entire business model of large, inflexible baseload power plants is being challenged not by off-the-grid hippies, but by other utility executives who see the writing on the wall.

The 2013 collapse of the U.S. nuclear power industry may seem astounding today. Over the next few years, shutdowns of aging and inefficient reactors are likely to become the new normal.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Lots of deniers claim that Nuclear is the answer (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JesseCW, S F Hippie, cotterperson

    but clearly it's too pricey now....Germany is moving to cheaper wind and solar too.....nuclear is a good idea in theory but in life it is too dangerous to afford to use!

  •  These plants shouldn't be just shut down. (0+ / 0-)

    They need to be replaced with newer and safer reactor plants (and they can be built very safely).  The expansion of solar and wind power should be embraced for the time being since we have the space to do it, but nuclear plants can provide more power for the same amount of real estate.  Despite public panic, nuclear reactors are the best bet for long term electrical power generation as our population expands and the amount of land we utilize increases.

    "There are no atheists in foxholes" isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. - James Morrow

    by kirrix on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:58:38 AM PDT

    •  Every new generation is "safe". (10+ / 0-)

      Only, it never actually is, and it always winds up cost double or more that it's projected to cost.

      Nuclear is expensive, slow to build, incapable of dealing with daily fluctuations in demand that are only going to increase, and dangerous.

      From mining to refining the generation to disposal, it's a poisonous fuel handled at all times by the lowest bidder for the lowest price they think they can get away with.

      It's done.  You might as well be trying to sell rigid airships as the luxury travel standard of the future in 1938.

      "But the traitors will pretend / that it's gettin' near the end / when it's beginning" P. Ochs

      by JesseCW on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 10:05:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  well, maybe they should be (6+ / 0-)

      In my view, it is impossible to make an inherently dangerous technology inherently safe. Yes, it is certainly possible to build safer reactors than the GE Mark I's, for example--the govt should have banned those when AEC safety officials first proposed that in 1971. But every reactor design has its own flaws--with this technology safety can never be fully assured. If there were no alternatives, that would be one thing. But since there are--and they're more viable than ever--there is no need to consider more nuclear power.

      I should point out that neither rooftop solar nor offshore wind take up any useful real estate. And, for that matter, solar PV plants are usually sited on land that wouldn't be used for other purposes. And land by onshore wind farms typically can be used for farming and other purposes (one reason why wind is doing so well in the midwest, where farmers get paid for putting up windmills and still get to farm their land), so the land-use footprint of renewables is too often far overstated.

    •  plenty of real estate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the entire nameplate generating capacity of the US could be fullfilled by solar occupying the area of 2 Nellis Air Force bases.  Not that you would want to put it all in one place, but the point is real estate is not a problem.

    •  The owners have passed on that. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JesseCW, wilderness voice

      Largest American operator of nuclear plants has already said "No more nukes".

  •  this is great news (4+ / 0-)

    I follow the Union of Concerned Scientists All Things Nuclear blog, and while they've been working hard at getting new safety guidelines pushed through, they haven't indicated such a slowdown in the nuclear industry as you indicate.

    "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

    by louisev on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 09:59:31 AM PDT

  •  thanks for mentioning the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    massive gas expansion that will continue unabated for the near-to-medium term.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility- mperiousRex.

    by terrypinder on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 10:04:45 AM PDT

  •  This is good news (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Miggles, RandomNonviolence

    As a lifelong anti-nuke activist, I look forward to the day when we no longer have ANY of these piles working. When Vermont Yankee goes down, that should be the last one on the CT river (Haddam Neck is now a pile of casks in a parkinglot waiting for somewhere to bury it). Still have to deal with Millstone 1, 2 and 3.
    And it's beyond awesome that what's killing Nuke power is Alt energy, PV and Wind.
    Nat gas has it's problems, fracking in particular, but it doesn't glow in the dark and if we ever get a rational carbon tax scheme in place, it will go too.
    Nukes are bad juju. That crap should never have been taken out of the ground.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 10:06:57 AM PDT

  •  Solar power's growth has been phenominal (9+ / 0-)

    I was celebrating when the government's coal sale failed. It's excellent news that we are moving towards distributed power.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 10:10:00 AM PDT

  •  Dollars are worthless. However, as a measure of (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Just Bob, pdknz, Woody

    RELATIVE value, they are priceless. When the last plant, Seabrook, was built, the utilities financed the enterprise with the expectation that power consumption would increase 7% annually, indefinitely. That anything will double every ten years for ever is unrealistic. However, in the case of electricity consumption they were way off. The numbers tell the story. The actualy increase over the last thrity plus years has been on the order of 2% and in 2011 they actually registered a decrease.
    To realize how devastating this reality is, keep in mind that as late as 1991, the U.S. Treasury was paying dividends on long term bonds of 8.1%. That meant that every other investment, anything more risky than letting the U.S. government hold your money, had to guarantee a return greater than that. The rule of thumb in rental housing, for example, was a net profit of 9% and that was presuming that the housing would appreciate in value over time, if only because people who are loathe to relocate will pay more rent.

    There never was any practical reason for why people who'd managed to accumulate money should get such a big return for lending it. But, it was tradition. And the Federal Reserve went along by setting base rates for banks as a lever for managing the economy over all. But, that didn't work. Increasing interest rates did not keep people from borrowing. If anything, it led them to borrow more thinking their return next year would be greater still. Then, around the year 2000, the Federal Reserve decided to stop trying to control the economy with the interest rate and let it fall to about 2 or 3%. And all of the people who had relied on a sure return of 8% on their nest egg freaked out and let themselves be talked into investing in "novel" securities and financial products, backed by hot air until it all blew up in 2008.
    Since then, the Fed has held the rate to banks at less than one percent. That's the bottom. Speculating in dollars is out of style. Either what the dollar buys is worth something, or it's not. Which is how it is supposed to be. But, when you get to that point and real things are compared to each other and people don't buy what they don't want, then the dollar tells us that. Why don't they want electricity from big companies? Because they've proved unreliable. Because they've gotten rid of all redundancy and as soon as one tree falls, a whole section of the state is without power.
    If you want unreliable, you might as well put solar panels on the roof and have only yourself to blame.

  •  One little depressing note -- when driving (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nirsnet, wilderness voice

    through the Scottish Highlands last month, we noted that one town was advertising its pride in having stopped wind turbines from being built in their area -- they think it ruins the pristine landscape. The pathetic thing was that not that far away we had passed a huge nuclear reactor that was one of the ugliest things I've seen. It's possible it was one of the ones that's been shut down (Wikipedia lists a bunch that were) -- I can't remember exactly where it was. But it was truly unsightly.
    I really like the sight of the large white wind turbines as they turn in a kind of graceful slow motion. I don't see why so many people oppose them.

    While Democrats work to get more people to vote, Republicans work to ensure those votes won't count.

    by Tamar on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 10:39:14 AM PDT

    •  Me, too. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      I really like the sight of the large white wind turbines as they turn in a kind of graceful slow motion.
      I love the sight of wind turbines turning.  I'm moving to a place that is not only beautiful in itself, but is only 15 miles from a wind farm, so I can go and admire them whenever I feel like it!  

      "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

      by Calamity Jean on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:10:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It demonstrates why power companies (0+ / 0-)

    Put up so much resistance to renewables.

    They did the math. They saw the numbers.

    Not pretty when your plant cost 4x projected cost to build and even after soaking customers with surcharges you can't make it pay for decades.

    •  We are in the middle of that with the (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice, Woody

      Edwardsport, Indiana, Coal Gasification Boondoggle, which is years late, a billion and a half dollars over budget, and likely to raise electricity rates all over Indiana for decades to come if we can't kill it. We did kill the Rockport Coal Gasification Boondoggle in spite of the Indiana Legislature's corrupt bargain with the owner, Leucadia.

      In Indiana, Carbon Taxes You (Not)

      Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

      by Mokurai on Tue Sep 10, 2013 at 12:23:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  More reasons to invest in renewables (0+ / 0-)

        Build off site, assemble on site, low maintenance, no fuel costs.

        Changes the game.

        The hard part is to convince the public the capital investments pay back even when you show them the numbers.

        People (including power utility managers) have been brainwashed into thinking power comes from a vending machine; like a Coke machine, it comes almost for free and works as long as you keep pumping quarters in until your teeth rot out.

        But the capital costs keen declining.

  •  The Grid (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mokurai, wilderness voice, Woody

    I don't believe David Crane's , CEO of NRG Energy,  statement that “in about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy.”  In Vermont right now, an inadequate grid system has made it impossible to use all the energy available from existing wind turbines.  ISO-NE is planning to close all the old oil and coal fired electrical plants in the region by 2020 but can only do so if it upgrades the grid and finds new generating capacity.

    The grid will increasingly become a battery and switching mechanism for energy, especially from renewables which are intermittent sources.  We need to make it smarter and much more efficient.

    Just slapping enough PV panels on your roof and a wind turbine in the backyard to take care of yourself is not enough.  We need an integrated system that is also capable of adapting to adverse conditions, isolating and islanding itself in the face of storms like Hurricane Sandy.  (CT is the first state in the nation to consider microgrids on a statewide basis.  This conversation is only beginning - here in the USA, in Europe it is probably much more advanced.)

    And remember, according to the latest Lawrence Livermore National Labs flowchart of annual US energy use, we get useful work out of only 39% of the energy we generate (a number that has been dropping over the last few years).  The rest, 61%, is "rejected energy."  Our problem is not really supply.  It is end use efficiency - exergy, exergy, exergy.

  •  Theory (0+ / 0-)

      I love nuclear energy in theory, in practice it costs too much and is unsafe.

      I hope that in the future the current electricity companies will make their money from managing the grid and will transition to transmission companies rather than generating companies.

  •  At least one of your facts is wrong (0+ / 0-)

    Or at best, cynically misleading. Nuclear power is used primarily for electricity generation, not transportation (aside from moving submarines, aircraft carriers, a handful of Russian ice breakers, and one Russian cargo ship). As such, in terms of total energy consumed, the biggest renewable contributor to total energy use is "biomass", which diverts food like corn and soybeans into ethanol and biodiesel. When you compare sources of electricity generation alone, the same EIA report (table 7.2a) clearly shows nuclear power still smoking all forms of renewable combined through the first five months of 2013 (over 315,000 million kilowatt-hours for nuclear compared to less than 120,000 million kilo-watt hours for all renewables).

    You are wrong, for the foreseeable future cheap greenhouse gas emitting fracked natural gas is the biggest threat to nuclear power.

    Also, you refer to Mark Cooper as an "economist" but his degree is in sociology, not economics.

  •  AWESOME!!! (0+ / 0-)

    OWS (Occupy Pittsburgh) - REAL MOVEMENT of, by, for AND from the people!

    by waiting for lefty on Wed Sep 11, 2013 at 04:07:51 PM PDT

  •  From your keyboard (0+ / 0-)
    The 2013 collapse of the U.S. nuclear power industry may seem astounding today. Over the next few years, shutdowns of aging and inefficient reactors are likely to become the new normal.  
    to FSM's and IPU's inbox.  

    "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

    by Calamity Jean on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:16:03 PM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site