The Curse of Three Mile Island on Nuclear Industry

By Ad Crable

Lancater New Era

 

Forget that 17 utilities have applied to build 30 new nuclear plants in the United States.

 

Forget that concerns over global warming have made even environmentalists cast an 

eye toward nuclear power.

 

Forget that a recent survey shows 55 percent of Americans now are behind more nukes.

 

No new nuclear plant has been built in the country since the accident at Three Mile Island

 — 30 years ago this month. 

 

The infamous accident and its once unthinkable partial meltdown of the reactor core brought

new construction of nuclear plants to a grinding halt. 

 

That's the way it will stay, talk of a nuclear renaissance notwithstanding, maintained two 

speakers at opposite ends of the political spectrum during a nuclear power forum here 

Wednesday.

 

For Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, a well-regarded conservative Washington

think-tank, it's purely a matter of economics.

 

Nuclear plants cost too much to build, are woefully prone to cost-overruns, can't be switched off

 and on to take advantage of the lucrative peak-power markets, and survive now only by being 

propped up by unhealthy government subsidies and guarantees, Taylor maintained.

 

"If you're building a nuclear power plant, you're rolling the dice on your company, your money 

and your reputation," he said during a forum on the economics of nuclear power sponsored by

the Commonwealth Foundation, a nonprofit research and educational group.

 

Even with massive subsidies, investors have been unwilling to take a chance on nuclear plants, 

according to Taylor, who said environmentalists can't be blamed for the nuclear industry's 

problems.

 

In Finland, where the first privately funded new nuclear plant in decades is being built, construction

is two years behind schedule and 60 percent over budget.

 

Despite talk of more compact design and streamlined government approvals, "The fact is these 

problems  are not behind the industry," Taylor maintained. "They continue to haunt the industry."

 

Nuclear plants survive in the United States, generating about 20 percent of the country's power, 

because once built, they do churn out electricity cheaply, Taylor noted.

 

Nuclear plants continue to be built in places like France, China and India because they are dictated 

by the government, not investors, said Taylor, who said he personally was neutral on nuclear power.

 

But what about nuclear power's no-carbon footprint and promise of an energy source that won't warm 

the globe?

 

Even with a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions, which is being contemplated by the government,

the start-up costs of nuclear power would still not be competitive with coal or natural gas, Taylor 

concluded.

 

"Nuclear energy is to the right what solar energy is to the left: Religious devotion in practice, a wonderful

 technology in theory, but an economic white elephant in fact."

 

Eric Epstein, a well-known anti-nuclear activist in Central Pennsylvania since the TMI accident, reached

the same conclusion as Taylor but cited different reasons for a no-nuke stance.

 

Epstein, who heads the TMI Alert watchdog group and is a stockholder of several regional utilities, said 

any nuclear plant is destined to become a dump for used highly radioactive fuel and a drain on both

ratepayers and taxpayers because of the huge costs of cleaning up, or decommissioning, a plant once 

its life is ended.

 

"Why replicate this around the country?" Epstein asked rhetorically. 

 

TMI's active Unit 1 reactor was built two years behind schedule. Unit 2 was five years behind schedule, 

three times over budget and operated a mere 90 days before the infamous accident, Epstein said. Other 

nuclear plants built in Pennsylvania recorded similar overruns and delays, he said.  

 

"The trend is clear and unequivocal. Nuclear plants are always over budget and always very, very 

expensive."

 

Epstein also predicted the prodigious amounts of water needed by nuclear plants will soon become 

another albatross.

 

"Water is this century's oil," he said.

 

 

Staff writer Ad Crable can be reached at acrable@LNPnews.com or 481-6029.