Why nuclear could become the next ‘fossil’ fuel
Construction of US reactors falters due to high cost and cheaper alternatives, writes
AGRAY dinosaur statue outside south Florida’s largest power plant is meant to symbolise two decommissioned fossil fuel reactors, but it also could be seen to represent a nuclear industry crumpling amid mounting costs.
Almost a decade ago, Turkey Point was aiming to become one of the country’s largest nuclear plants. Florida Power and Light (FPL) had argued that such expansion was needed to maintain diverse energy sources and to supply the state’s booming population for years to come.
But now, just three reactors are in operation — one natural gas and two nuclear reactors — built in the 1970s. And, plans to build two more nuclear reactors — first announced in 2009 — are essentially on hold for four years.
Earlier this year, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, builder of the AP1000 reactor — the model scheduled for use at plants in South Carolina and Georgia as well as Turkey Point — rattled the industry. Both projects are now years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy estimates that construction on Turkey Point has been delayed until 2028, with costs expected to balloon to over US$20 billion (RM88 billion).
FPL has refused to publicly revise its projections at Turkey Point, for now. The project has been controversial from the start, and casts the spotlight on concerns about nuclear power.
Critics have pointed to the rising seas from climate change, risks of storm surge, radioactive waste and threats to drinking water and wildlife at the site, nestled near Everglades National Park, as reasons to stop nuclear expansion.
Complaints have also centred on the difficulty of evacuating the densely-populated area around the plant in case of emergency.
“Investing tens of billions of dollars on a power plant that will be underwater one day, along with the highly radioactive waste it will produce, makes no sense,” said fishing captain Dan Kipnis, one of the activists who is fighting to stop the project.
Legal challenges to the plant’s expansion began in 2010, and continued this month with a hearing before the Atomic Safety Board.
Turkey’s Point’s two nuclear reactors use a series of cooling canals to treat wastewater. These canals were confirmed last year to be leaking into a nearby national park, after the radioactive isotope tritium was found at up to 215 times the normal level in waters off Biscayne Bay.
Meanwhile, the ever-dropping cost of natural gas is making nuclear less attractive.
“Most people think Turkey Point will never get built,” said Mark Cooper, senior research fellow at the Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School, referring to FPL’s proposed new nuclear reactors.
“It turns out it was not the environmentalists, it was not the suits,” Cooper said
“They could not deliver a safe, economically-viable product. They couldn’t do it in the 1980s and they can’t do it today.
“Nuclear power is a technology whose time never came.”