Nuclear plants still come with caveats

Steam billows from the cooling towers at Exelon's nuclear power generating station in Byron, Ill.

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Bill Radke: Utilities that invest in or operate nuclear power plants are meeting this week in Florida. Nuclear power is having a little renaissance. Even some environmental groups saying we're going to have to embrace nuclear power to help combat climate change. The nuclear industry still has a long way to go, though, before it cuts a ribbon on a single new plant, as Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: The U.S. generates 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. Growth in the industry stalled after the meltdown at Three Mile Island 30 years ago.

But now, with climate change a priority, Roger Gale with the consulting firm GF Energy says nuclear is a necessary and clean energy source.

Roger Gale: If we want to sustain the lifestyles we have and aren't ready to reduce our demand and change the way we live, we need nuclear.

U.S. regulators have 22 applications for new nuclear power plants. But the costs are still prohibitive.

Ellen Vanco: We're dealing with $8 [billion] to $10 billion per reactor.

Ellen Vanco at the Union of Concerned Scientists says the private sector isn't ready to risk that much investment in nuclear energy. And she doesn't think the government should subsidize construction of hundreds of new power plants.

Vanco: The industry claims the current generation of reactors is an improvement. And that remains to be seen, they need to build them and they need to demonstrate a few and we need to see how much they're going to cost and whether and what safety issues arise as a result of that.

But nuclear advocates are looking for approval of government loan guarantees early next year. They say that will trigger construction of more than a dozen new nuclear power plants in the U.S.

I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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