The U.S. Nuclear Power Industry's Dim Future

Cheap coal and natural gas have overturned the industry
A 900-ton containment vessel bottom head is placed in the Unit 3 nuclear island at Georgia’s Plant Vogtle in June Photograph by Georgia Power Company

Five years ago the nuclear energy industry looked set for its first run of serious growth since the late 1970s, when the Three Mile Island disaster put the brakes on reactor expansion in the U.S. In 2008, Congress authorized $18 billion in federal loan guarantees for plant construction. Utilities submitted 24 applications by the end of that year, anticipating that lawmakers would eventually put a price on carbon with a cap-and-trade bill that would make coal-fired plants less profitable. In 2007 and 2008, the price of the nuclear industry’s two biggest competing sources of power, coal and natural gas, skyrocketed as part of a global rally in commodity prices.

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