In his last month’s state of the union address, the incumbent US President Mr Barack Obama asserted the pressing need to develop each accessible source of energy for the country’s future sustenance. He literally bragged about the wind turbine factory in Michigan, America’s vast reserves of natural gas and the massive efforts that the government in conjunction with the private sector is putting in for crude exploration. The President also made a compelling argument in front of the Congress to incentivize in form of taxes, the development of clean and efficient energy.
However, what was conspicuously absent in his address was the total non-mention of nuclear energy ,even though the hundred odd nuclear reactors that America has at her disposal, constitutes nearly twenty percent of the country’s electricity needs. Also it was a momentous occasion for the sector as after more than 30 years since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979,the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was poised to give approval for the construction of a new nuclear reactor on U.S soil. The approval was duly handed on 9th of February. The combined licenses of construction and operation were issued to the Atlanta based Southern company. The licenses were dispensed for two nuclear reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle in eastern Georgia, which will take the number of operational reactors to four in that state. With capital investments to tune of nearly 15 billion, the project represents the largest construction project in Georgia’s history and if everything goes smoothly Southern Company expects the two nuclear reactors to be operational by 2017.
Many believe that this landmark decision will usher in a period of nuclear renaissance in America. Four more reactors – a couple each in South Carolina and Florida are also due for NRC’s approval this year only. While the coal industry remains mired in a host of stinging issues like emission norms, dubious regulation standards, pollution and also the notion of carbon pricing has gained much traction, but these disputes are a blessing in disguise for the carbon free “clean” nuclear power. The nuclear sector is increasingly being looked upon as a pivotal part of the country’s energy portfolio, with several politicians including the current energy secretary, Steven Chu, getting increasingly vociferous about the current administration’s pledge to revive the nuclear industry, which will entail greater government funding and tax incentives.
However, everything will not be hunky dory for the sector as there will be a lot of bottlenecks strewn in its path. As per a recent poll, 65% of Americans were opposed to construction of new nuclear reactors on their soil. The incidents in Three Mile Island along with the latest disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima have made the general public apprehensive about nuclear energy. This dent in public support is being seen everywhere, especially in France, where even though nuclear energy is the source of three fourth of country’s electricity, a majority of French citizens were against their country’s dependence on nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement may also suddenly come to life with the resurgence of nuclear industry. Already nine different environmental groups have challenged the NRC’s decision citing the NRC’s failure to fully gauge the environmental ramifications that the nuclear reactors may have.
Also following the catastrophes in Fukushima and Chernobyl , there is a public outcry for rigid safety compliance on part of the companies, which will definitely lead to delays and subsequent burgeoning of cost. Also the fact that America has a vast reserves of shale gas which costs a drip as compared to nuclear power, may very well make this sector redundant.