A decade ago, nuclear proponents were claiming a renaissance for the US industry. Dozens of reactors were penciled out – if only on the backs of napkins – and the federal government was set to provide billions of dollars in loan guarantees for new construction. States in the southeast US allowed utilities to impose Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) charges on ratepayers long before reactors went on-line.
No more. Only four new reactors are being built in the US, and it is possible that none of them will ever operate. Westinghouse, which is building the reactors – all over-budget and behind schedule – is out of the nuclear construction business. Its parent company, Toshiba, recently announced a $6.3 billion loss on its US nuclear business and may well file for bankruptcy.
The bottom line for nuclear power is grim. Since October 2012, reactor owners have closed (or revealed plans to close) 14 reactors at 11 sites across the country. Even more telling, according to World Nuclear News, is that of 27 GigaWatts of new electrical generating capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2016, only 1 GW was nuclear, and that from a reactor that took 42 years to bring on-line.
Developers promoting small modular reactor (SMR) such as NuScale say their plans are unaffected by all the bad nuclear news. But most analysts see SMRs as a bridge to a very uncertain next generation of reactors. It’s becoming clear that the present shore is crumbling as the far shore grows more distant.