"I am sorry good people of South Carolina that your nuke did not work out. By the way - what do you do with a half built nuke plant anyhow? Convert it into a department store? A YMCA? I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine."
It seems odd to report on a death of something which is not even born as yet. But that is what I am doing this morning. The long awaited VC Summer generating plant in South Carolina, which is partially built at the cost of billions, will never reach completion. The owners are throwing in the towel. And the sunk costs so far? Much of those costs will be borne by the customers who will never see a dime's worth of value out of this long awaited nuclear plant.
One might say "so what"? What does that have to do with me. First off, the benefits to nuclear energy are (or is), it is clean. On the down side, a nuclear plant takes forever to built. Why? First off, NIMBY. NIMBY = Not In My Back Yard. Nukes have a bad reputation (most of use remember seeing the movie The China Syndrome). Even though nukes have become much safer, many remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the more recent Fukushima disaster in Japan. Accidents can still happen.
Then of course, there is the problem or storage. Spent uranium rods take a long, long time to cool down. Even longer to become benign. How long? Hundreds to thousands of years long. And with Yucca Mountain still being contested for long term storage, individual generating sites are stuck with temporary storage of the spent fuel.
Our nuclear sites are getting a bit long in the tooth. To update an existing system is a pricey deal. For example, the nuke up in Monticello, MN came on line in 1971. It is a single, boiling water type of unit - ironically, the same model as the Fukushima nukes. It was suppose to go off-line in 2010, but in 2006, it license to operate was extended to 2030.
After a couple of decades of nothingness, we are getting ready to have a new nuke go online in Tennessee. This new complex should be up and running by 2020. That complex, as well as the South Carolina plant, were suppose to make a minor splash in our energy grid. No longer. The TVA plant will help, but the nuclear industry has a long, long way to go to make up for retiring coal plants.
Where does that leave us? With a murky future. Renewable sources are still being developed, and nuclear continues to be fraught with problems (as well as great expense). The only thing the average consumer needs to understand about our energy future is this - even though the cost of gasoline and natural gas seem to have stabilized, the cost of electricity has not. And there is no indication in the future that it will. Our desire for a more carbon free future, does come with a very expensive price tag.
I am sorry good people of South Carolina that your nuke did not work out. By the way - what do you do with a half built nuke plant anyhow? Convert it into a department store? A YMCA? I don't know. Your guess is as good as mine.