Nuclear reactor. Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.
Nuclear reactors are shutting in the U.S, and across the world. Reactors have always been dangerous, but over time they have also become more expensive than ever. A 2017 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates U.S. reactors lose $2.9 billion per year in operations overall. Eight American reactors have closed permanently since 2013, and most of the remaining 97 units are very old and costly.
Plans have already been made to shut more reactors in the next few years. Only two new reactors are under construction, and due to enormous delays and soaring costs, these may never open.
Natural gas, now the most common U.S. electricity source, is cheaper than nuclear – as are solar and wind power, now the fastest-growing sources of electricity. But nuclear power operators are not giving up just yet. Touting nuclear power as “emission-free” energy, they have used this lie to convince four state legislatures to include nuclear in laws that otherwise attempt to reduce carbon emissions. In these states, nuclear operators are allowed to raise electric bills (totals are in the billions), and more states may follow.
But the true costs of nuclear vs. other sources are not simply a matter of cost per kilowatt hour. Medical costs are a huge factor and must be added to the public discussion.
Nuclear reactors emit a mix of over 100 chemicals, each radioactive and cancer-causing. These chemicals do not exist in nature but are only found in operating reactors and exploded atom bombs. They can be stored as toxic waste – which must be kept from human contact for thousands of years. Some escapes from reactors and enters human bodies through breathing and the food chain.
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