US "Asleep At The Wheel" – As Nuclear Industry Faces Collapse

A new, shocking report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP), Harvard University, and the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy discovered that the US nuclear power industry could be on the verge of a collapse — a reality that many have yet to realize.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), “US nuclear power: The vanishing low-carbon wedge” examined 99 nuclear power reactors in 30 states, operated by 30 different power companies. As of 2017, there are two new reactors under construction, but 34 reactors have been permanently shut down as many plants reach the end of their lifespan.

We’re asleep at the wheel on a very dangerous highway,” said Ahmed Abdulla, co-author and fellow at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego. “We really need to open our eyes and study the situation.”

For more than three decades, approximately 20 percent of U.S. power generation has come from light water nuclear reactors (LWRs). These plants are now aging, and the cost to service or upgrade them along with fierce competition from Trump’s economic order to prop up failing coal and heavily indebted shale oil/gas companies make nuclear power less competitive in today’s power markets.

In return, the American shale boom could trigger a significant number of US nuclear power plant closures in the years ahead, the researchers warned. The country is now at a critical crossroad that it must abandon nuclear power altogether or embrace the next generation of miniature, more cost-effective reactors.

The researchers noted that small modular reactors might play a significant role in US energy markets in the next few decades. This new design would effectively swap out the current aging, LWRs that the Atomic Energy Commission allowed to rapidly expand across the country in the 1960s and after. The researchers described several scenarios where new nuclear power plants could be used to back up wind and solar, produce heat for industrial processes, or serve military bases.

Given the current market structure and policy dynamics, the researchers were not convinced that nuclear power would be competitive in the future power market.

While efforts continue to advance batteries for storing electricity from solar and wind, utilities have made an impressive push into natural gas. As of 2018, fossil fuel now produces nearly 32 percent of US power.

Given the impending collapse of the nuclear industry, the researchers questioned whether renewable energy would be enough to offset losses from retiring nuclear power plants.

“The reality is you cannot actually replace 20 percent of the need with wind and solar, unless you want to wallpaper every square inch of many states,” said Christian Back, vice-president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics. “It’s not efficient enough.”

Back said with the right political support, nuclear reactors operating today could be retrofitted to increase safety and lifespan, while smaller, more cost-effective ones could be strategically placed on the grid.

“This is a situation like Nasa when you’re putting someone on the moon where the government needs to recognize the long-term benefit and investment that’s required and help support that,” Back added. “This is where political will matters.”

Researchers also suggested that many civilians overlook nuclear energy and do not realize the urgency of the situation.

In the article’s conclusion, the researchers warn, “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End? 


Rothbardian in… Thu, 07/12/2018 - 11:57 Permalink

This is interesting.  When we look at the necessary investment in Nuke power to remain a competitive alternative to fossil fuel production means there would have to be an assumption about the ROI/Breakeven of a capital investment.  If the assumption is that subsidies will continue for fossil and/or "green" then there seems to not be a scenario in which nuke could justify the investment.


The problem is not nuke power generation.  The problem is two consecutive POTUS admins that break free market mechanisms by taking money from taxpayers (technically those not born yet) to subsidize industry that have failed to compete.  Said another way, capitalism without failure is like religion without hell.  What's the point.


Until we have real price discovery AND allow resources to flow to the most useful means through failed enterprises, this situation will continue to worsen until the mechanism to subsidize is exhausted.


Jtrillian Rothbardian in… Thu, 07/12/2018 - 11:59 Permalink

We need to upgrade to LFTR's.  Doing so would propel the US energy industry to the next century and beyond at a fraction of the cost, with massive efficiency, and are exponentially more safe than light water reactors. 

But that's not the real question you should be asking.  The real question is WHY HAVE YOU NEVER HEARD of LFTR's??? 

Follow the money...


In reply to by Rothbardian in…

Rapunzal cheech_wizard Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:23 Permalink

My best friends dad is working for the energy department in DC. He is part of the nuclear waste team. Obviously top secret since the taxpayer are only cattle and useless eaters. The water of Flint is in better condition than the storage of nuclear waste in the US. Facilities at the plant at full capacity. Storage decades longer in use than it should be. No solution for final storage in sight. This is gonna be a big mess heading to the taxpayer.

In reply to by cheech_wizard

HockeyFool el buitre Thu, 07/12/2018 - 13:05 Permalink

"along with fierce competition from Trump’s economic order to prop up failing coal and heavily indebted shale oil/gas companies make nuclear power less competitive in today’s power markets"

Total bullshit. Nuclear power is not competitive because democrat Jimmuh Carter prevented the closing of the fuel cycle and disallowed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

Allow reprocessing of the spent fuel instead of forcing long term storage and the cost of running a nuke plant drops DRAMATICALLY.

Spent fuel is actually only about 30% used up. So there is close to 70% of the fissionable material still in the fuel. It just needs to be reprocessed and reused.

Regarding long term storage of the spent fuel, I don't need to ask my best friends Dad. I worked as a radiochemist at a nuke plant 14 years. The spent fuel pools (SFP) at commercial plant are overloaded. However, companies have been moving spent fuel rods to concrete containment systems for 10 years+. Its not the best solution, but its better than overloading the SFP.

So why doesn't Trump just say "Reprocessing of spent fuel is now allowed by law." ?

All that spent fuel is still ready and able to be reprocessed. It doesn't spoil. All we need is to open a reprocessing plant or two.

They've been doing it for years in Europe.

In reply to by el buitre

thebriang HockeyFool Thu, 07/12/2018 - 16:09 Permalink

Man, you are a class A fuggin idiot. The repros in Europe that Do run are some of the most polluted industrial sites on earth. And how did Rokkasho work out for japan? Is it 30 years and 30 billion Yet?
Not to mention that reprocessing creates Massive amounts of waste that cannot be further reprocessed or separated and so must be stored in mixing tanks.. Forever... Ala Hanford and SRS.
Always makes me wonder, is everyone involved with Big Nuke a fucking retard or a fucking liar?

In reply to by HockeyFool

cheech_wizard Rapunzal Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:36 Permalink

>This is gonna be a big mess heading to the taxpayer.

So who do you want to blame? Obama? Why yes... ($15 billion seems pretty cheap, when one actually thinks about government waste and corruption)

and Jimmy Carter? Why yes again...…

On April 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States would defer indefinitely the reprocessing of spent nuclear reactor fuel. He stated that after extensive examination of the issues, he had reached the conclusion that this action was necessary to reduce the serious threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, and that by setting this example, the U. S. would encourage other nations to follow its lead.

Standard Disclaimer: Details, details. (Like France's total amount of the really nasty shit thanks to reprocessing fuel occupies half a basketball court in area 4 feet high. Compare that to the US)


In reply to by Rapunzal

Jim in MN cheech_wizard Thu, 07/12/2018 - 13:21 Permalink

Ah, yes, those lying communists are so good at.....lying.  It's silly to use a highly secretive police state as your shining example.

But, I didn't downvote you. 

I'm sure you can merely wave your hands at the huge scandals, dangerous flaws, and willful falsifications committed by the French nuclear industry.  While pretending to know it all.  Merde.…


In reply to by cheech_wizard

Skip Rapunzal Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:38 Permalink

It is the greatest evil known to mankind.

How 6,700 Tons of Radioactive Sand from Kuwait Ended Up in Idaho
Questions remain about how depleted uranium waste from the first Gulf War was transferred, and whether health risks were posed. September 16, 2008 Good ole George W Bush, RED STATE Idaho oh yeah!!! W. was a CONSERVATIVE don't you know? The GOP has supported the War on Whites since as far back as I can remember. At least The Donald is doing things, maybe not enough, but SOMETHING at least.

Who weaponized the atom? Who gave "safe, clean", nuclear energy?
(((The GANG)))

Albert Einstein- Bombfather- German Jew
Robert Oppenheimer- Manhattan Project- Russian Jew/Soviet spy
David Bohm- Manhattan Project- Hungarian Jew
Edward Teller- Hydrogen Bomb- Polish Jew
Stanislaw Ulam- Hydrogen Bomb- Polish Jew
Enrico Fermi was married to a Jewess, Laura Capon

In reply to by Rapunzal

Teja SubjectivObject Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:17 Permalink

May be significant at the moment, but costs are too high due to the monopolistic character of the technology. Similar to the aerospace industry, but worse. Can't compete with a combination of gas and wind/solar. Gas as backup power and wind/solar as mainstay.

“The reality is you cannot actually replace 20 percent of the need with wind and solar, unless you want to wallpaper every square inch of many states,” said Christian Back, vice-president of nuclear technologies and materials at General Atomics. “It’s not efficient enough.”

That guy last checked the efficiency and costs of wind and solar in the 80's, I would guess. Many countries ALREADY have a 20 percent share of wind + solar (not counting hydro) and are NOT completely plastered with solar power plants.

In reply to by SubjectivObject

Teja css1971 Thu, 07/12/2018 - 15:43 Permalink

Plastered? Many, yes, especially in coastal areas and near the Autobahns, but plastered is bullshit. Propaganda. About 29'000. Less than one per 10 square kilometers on average. Funnily, those people complaining about them don't usually complain about roads, with 230'000 km crisscrossing the land outside of cities and villages.

Electricity costs might be amongst the highest, together with Italy and UK, but that doesn't seem to stop the Germans manufacturing high tech goods at competitive prices, to the chagrin of Mr. Trump. Maybe these high energy prices (same for fuel) forced the mind of German engineers towards higher efficiency?

In reply to by css1971

Jtrillian css1971 Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:48 Permalink

I hope people see through the excuses against LFTR's.  The fact that so many folks are strongly against them (likely working in the nuclear industry) should raise questions. 

Thorium will be a part of how we produce energy in the future.  China, India, and Europe are already working on thorium solutions. 

Not sure where the US will be in the grand scheme of things but if it thinks it can continue to rely on light water reactors... I hope everyone likes living in a third world nuclear wasteland. 

In reply to by css1971

lnardozi Jtrillian Thu, 07/12/2018 - 13:11 Permalink

LFTRs are indeed the answer, but I do not favor centrally located 10GW reactors, which still would contain enough fissile material to pose a very low level of proliferation risk. Let us instead have a factory sealed, mass produced 1MW LFTR reactor that contains 5 years of fuel that is impossible to use in a weapon, and is sent back to the factory for refurbishment when powered down.

That way, we both use clean fuel and remove the strategic risk our current power grid poses. Any significant long term failure of our electric grid would doom our civilization and cause 90% plus depopulation in the affected area. Unlikely, but we should plan for it because statistically, it's going to happen. 

In reply to by Jtrillian

RationalLuddite Jtrillian Thu, 07/12/2018 - 16:27 Permalink

I admire your intent, but unfortunately it's not fact based. It's wishful thinking,  small "m" magical thinking my friend. 

Just basic research:

 Nuclear scientist dispelling the Thorium myths

"Lastly, those who believe that Thorium Reactors are better and will be the ENERGY SAVIOR of our future, this is delusional thinking at best.  I am sorry to be so blunt… but there it is.  Thorium reactor technology is still decades from reaching commercial status… if ever.  Unfortunately, we have run just run out the clock."

In reply to by Jtrillian

the artist Rothbardian in… Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:07 Permalink

It took Carnegie, Harvard and UCSD to come up with the obvious conclusion that anyone who has been paying attention already knew and predicted. 

To your point of Whats the point?...

The point is Weapons Grade Plutonium generation. That demand has totally perturbed the direction of the nuclear power industry. If it was not a factor then the industry would look completely different today. 

In reply to by Rothbardian in…

Rothbardian in… the artist Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:14 Permalink

I think you are probably right more than any of us care to admit.  In the crony capitalism model that more accurately represents our economic system, Privatize the profits and socialize the losses seems to be the norm.


In this case, bilk taxpayers to subsidize the creation of an industry (nuke power).  Like a vampire, the MIC sucks out all of the weapons grade fissionable material, and leaves an emaciated (and socially toxic/deadly) corpse behind for society to deal with.



In reply to by the artist

Urban Roman Rothbardian in… Thu, 07/12/2018 - 12:15 Permalink

We don't really have price discovery with fission reactors, either. They have been heavily subsidized by the MIC, and the costs of shutdown and remediation have never been priced in.

The MIC just wants its plutonium out of the things, and the boiling water to generate electricity is a byproduct.

Fission products other than plutonium are also byproducts, and neither the nuke industry nor the MIC gives a crap about those. And don't start about the 'thorium miracle'. It's a hypothetical model based on an experimental reactor that ran for a while in 1965 or thereabouts, and the byproducts of thorium fission are still fission products. That means instantly deadly radioactivity for a few years, and slow-poisoning radioactivity for centuries.

In reply to by Rothbardian in…