Swan Song for Nuclear Power?

Several years ago, many policymakers and industry experts believed nuclear power was on the verge of a renaissance.  New reactor designs, a streamlined approval process, and the desire for carbon-free electricity generation were to herald a rebirth for this power source.  Yet as the Washington Post reports, it has not worked out that way.

companies are holding back in the face of falling natural gas prices and sluggish and uncertain electricity demand. Only five new plants are under construction, while at least that many are slated for permanent closure or shut down indefinitely over safety issues.

On Monday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reiterated its refusal to issue a license for a new unit at Calvert Cliffs, Md., that a French company had hoped to make the model for a fleet of reactors. A pair of reactors in Southern California are under scrutiny over whether a major contractor and a utility there concealed concerns about potential cracks in the tubes of a steam generator. And nuclear plants in Wisconsin and Florida are closing down because their owners said they cannot compete with less expensive natural-gas-fired electricity.

Significant regulatory hurdles for new nuclear plants remain. More importantly, low natural gas prices have undercut any economic arguments for nuclear power. Even if new environmental regulations constrain the use of coal, it looks increasingly unlikely that nuclear will be used to pick up the slack.