Who would have thought that the Nuclear Age would end, not with a bang (mercifully) or a whimper, but with the sucking sound of $9 billion being legally siphoned out of the wallets of South Carolinaratepayers with the announced closure of the VC Summer nuclear plant project? [1] A little further south in Georgia, estimates to complete the overbudget and 4-year late Vogtle nuclear reactor project have soared from the 2007 Georgia Power company estimateof $14 billion to a whopping $29 billion [2] Ratepayers are on the hook in advance for those construction costs too, whether the plant gets finished or not.

The ratepayers in Florida got off easy:  They only have to pay $1+ billion for the canceled Duke Power Levy reactors which will never give them any electricity.  The final cost estimate for these unneeded and uneconomic reactors exceeded $25 billion. [3]

And through all this the company slated to build many of these reactors – Westinghouse – went bankrupt, bringing down its parent company – Japanese giant Toshiba – in the process.  Apparently its state-of-the art AP1000 reactor design was a bit more complicated and expensive to build than expected.

Why relate these economic horror stories?  Because in spite of them, well-intentioned (or not) public officials are still going around the country advocating for the construction of new nuclear power plants and the bailout of old ones at a time when cheap natural gas and growing-ever-cheaper renewables are leading the way to a global energy transformation – a transformation which renders continued use of nuclear power as anachronistic as advocating for clipper ships and Conestoga wagons.

That humans are not rational creatures, but rather “rationalizing” ones is continuously validated by the excuses given by nuclear cheerleaders to continue the nuclear boondoggle.  Take for example those offered recently in an editorial [4] by Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R.-IL16; who also happens to have 8 operating reactors in district, and has received $87,982 in campaign contributions from Exelon Corporation since 2010). Nuclear:

  • “provide(s) …energy…without carbon emissions.” RESPONSE: so do wind and solar, and without producing nuclear wastes or threat of catastrophic accidents.
  • “provid(es) thousands of good paying jobs, and millions of dollars in property taxes…” RESPONSE: the Illinois renewable energy and efficiency sectors combined provide nearly 4-1/2 times as many direct jobs as do nuclear plants.  Those industries pay taxes, too.
  • “supplies close to 20% of [U.S.] electricity…” RESPONSE: according to the Energy Information Agency, renewables have produced more electricity than nuclear since the beginning of 2017; and are growing in capacity, while nuclear capacity is shrinking.
  • “reactors… are suffering economically because of…subsidies to wind power.” RESPONSE: A 2012 study done by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified over 30 forms of subsidy or economic advantage granted to nuclear power.  If we’re going to discontinue subsidizing energy sources and enhance true competition, let’s get rid of all of the subsidies for all of the energy sources .

Wisely, the Congressman did not refer to nuclear power as “clean,” as so many other nuclear cheerleaders glibly do.  Perhaps he realizes that an energy resource that has generated over 75,000 tons of high-level radioactive wastes – some of the most deadly substances ever produced by humankind – with no place to dispose of them responsibly is not really so “clean” after all.  Over $30 billion have been collected for HLRW disposal, and not a single gram has been disposed of yet.  The tens-of-millions of cubic feet of low-level radioactive wastes should also be kept in mind – and out of the environment.

How is it that such nuclear economic follies are allowed to persist?  Robert Trigaux, the business writer for the Tampa Bay Times commenting on the V.C. Summer fiasco sums it up [3] succinctly:

“Billions upon billions spent for essentially nothing. [fill in your state] ratepayers likely to get stiffed for the flood of red ink. Regulators failing to be tough overseers. Captive state legislators too eager to bow to rich power companies…

 “None of these projects would have seen the light of day if state laws had not been enacted to shift the financial risk of grotesquely expensive nuclear plants from power company shareholders and dumped it all on hapless ratepayers.”

Given the $2.4 billion nuclear bailout that the Illinois Legislature and Governor Rauner recently lavished on Exelon Corporation to prop up 4 money-losing Illinois reactors, it seems like Trigaux’s message could have been written for Illinois, too.  Worse, Steve Cicala, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, predicts, “They’ll find themselves in the same situation all over again once the subsidies have expired.” [5]

To paraphrase former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Peter Bradford, just like we don’t fight world hunger with caviar, no matter how nutritious fish eggs might be, we won’t be meeting our future energy needs using exotic and over-expensive sources like nuclear power.  The Nuclear Age is over; the Age of Decommissioning is beginning.

In short, the fate of nuclear power has been decided; it’s now truly “blowin’ in the wind.”

[1]  “Billions lost in nuclear power projects, with more bills due,” Associated Press, Aug. 5, 2017.


 [2]  “Group says Georgia nuclear plant costs rise to $29 billion,” by Tom Hals, Reuters

Business News, June 15, 2017.


[3]  “Blind to runaway costs, nuclear power industry abandons another nuke plant,” Robert Trigaux, Tampa Bay Times Business Columnist, 08/02/17.


[4]  “Kinzinger: Why nuclear energy is the future in Illinois and globally, “ U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Chicago Sun-Times,  Aug. 5, 2017.


[5]   “U of Chicago professor: IL Zero Emissions Credit Exelon bailout ‘short-sighted,’ despite challenge dismissal,”  by Kacie Whaley,  Cook County Record,   Aug. 7, 2017.