Though staunchly opposed to nuclear power in some respects, like the controversial decision to scuttle the Yucca Mountain project, the Obama administration said in 2012 that it was "jumpstarting" the nuclear industry.
The Fukushima incident of 2011, caused by an earthquake, had led international political leaders motivated by sound-bite energy policy to declare nuclear power finished. The newest Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists special issue, published by the anti-nuclear activists behind the Doomsday Clock, turns its attention to the United States and wonders if nuclear science is dead in the home of the world's science leader. Japan and many European countries responded to the Fukushima disaster with public debate and significant policy shifts in the nuclear arena - the Japanese quickly recanted their position - but activists are confident that nuclear power is dead here, though the Obama administration did approve two modular nuclear reactor projects in 2012.
According to former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Bradford, a lawyer who worked for Ralph Nader and whose nuclear science credentials consisted of teaching English and American history in Greece, market forces - meaning a hostile government he helped create and anti-science beliefs he promoted - make nuclear power an unattractive investment prospect. Bradford writes, "Absent an extremely large injection of government funding or further life extensions, the reactors currently operating are going to end their licensed lifetimes between now and the late 2050s. They will become part of an economics-driven US nuclear phase-out a couple of decades behind the government-led nuclear exit in Germany."
Since a former employee of the Bulletin, also not a nuclear scientist, now runs the NRC, replacing a staff employee of Nevada's Senator Harry Reid, Yucca Mountain is dead and there is no modern disposal plan for nuclear waste, and there probably won't be one, meaning we are stuck with over a hundred sites and no modern, centralized storage facility, which does not bode well for the future. Like Japan, Germany declared it would exit nuclear power. But they have slashed subsidies for alternative energy, which means the choice is fossil fuels or nuclear power. Dancing on the grave of nuclear power in Germany should not be done just yet.
Sharon Squassoni, am anti-nuclear advocate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, assures readers in the same issue that a US nuclear phase out will have only minor international implications. Governmental attempts to buoy the US commercial nuclear industry for national security reasons won't go far - the National Labs have been guided to work on anything but nuclear weapons and power.
But it is commonly recognized that American activists caused the spike in CO2 emissions with their efforts to eliminate nuclear power, and their efforts to keep viable clean energy out will continue to effect greenhouse gas emissions, electricity prices, and the national economy. A US exit from nuclear power impacts all three negatively.
Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute chairman and chief scientist, Amory Lovins, says that as the US electricity system ages, most of its power plants and transmission grid will have to be replaced anyway. It might as well be with solar power or other renewable energy plants: "The inevitable US nuclear phase-out, whatever its speed, is […] just part of a far broader and deeper evolution from the remarkable electricity system that has served the nation so well to an even better successor now being created," he writes.
What is that successor? No one knows. It is unbridled optimism.
Earlier issues of the Bulletin touted France and its supposed shuttering of plants - but now they are not exiting as enthusiastically as activists had hoped. So the term for 'we are not getting rid of our nuclear power' is that they are 'carrying out an extensive, multi-stakeholder debate on the country's energy future'. With 75% of France's electricity derived from nuclear power, a rapid, minor or total exit seems unlikely.
Edit 3/5/2013: The original version read "No full-size nuclear plant has gotten a permit in decades and due to government obstacles there are guaranteed to be cost overruns". Both South Carolina and Georgia are two 1,000-MW reactors, as noted by Eliot Brenner, Director, Office of Public Affairs at the NRC, and the bulk of the paragraph was removed and changed to reflect the links to those projects., The paragraph on the modular reactors was also removed and various additional edits were made for subject agreement and tone to reflect the correct information.