But a string of high-profile accidents at nuclear plants around the world soured public opinion of the technology in the U. While the new deal with India bodes well for U. Right now, the major reason nuclear power plants are shutting down is economics.
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Utilities no longer want to buy into nuclear when natural gas and renewables like solar and wind are cheap. But climate change could soon change the equation. Today there are 98 nuclear reactors in operation across 30 states, with an average age of nearly Despite its advanced age, the average American plant has a generating capacity—a measure of the percentage of time a reactor is producing energy—of more than 90 percent.
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Plants abroad, meanwhile, have an average generating capacity of around 75 percent, according to Ford. That can be traced back to , when a partial meltdown occurred at a reactor at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island. The incident seriously damaged the plant's reactor, but exposed the surrounding population to less excess radiation than they would have received from a single chest X-ray, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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Still, in the wake of the meltdown, public opinion turned against the technology, and the construction of new plants slowed in the U. In the 10 years before the accident, construction began on an average of two dozen reactors around the world every year; afterwards, that number fell by more than half. Reactor designs and safety standards were updated—even for plants that were already under construction—leading both build times and construction costs to balloon.
Other high-profile accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima only solidified the technology's controversial reputation in Western nations.
Chernobyl: Why did the nuclear reactor explode and could it happen again?
While the U. Three Mile Island on March 28th, , the day of the site's partial meltdown. Since , only one new reactor has come online in the U. Two reactors under construction in Georgia appear destined for the same fate.
Meanwhile, South Korea, China, and Russia have managed to build new nuclear plants at cost and on schedule. According to Jacopo Buongiorno , a professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the long hiatus from building new nuclear plants in the U. Foreign companies still have experience managing the complex construction sites and can rely on an established supply chain and a qualified workforce, while U. That has made it difficult for the U. In February, executives from U.
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The executives said the international deals would lead to more manufacturing, construction, and engineering jobs for the U. It's not yet clear if the U. According to Nephew, the first sign that the U.
Of course, there are other reasons why the U. Despite a lack of federal leadership on climate, many states are still committed to decarbonizing their energy sectors over the next few decades and investing heavily in renewables like solar and wind. But renewables alone cannot currently meet all of our energy demands.
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While natural gas has proved to be less carbon-intensive than coal, it's still a significant source of emissions. Nuclear, on the other hand, generates 20 percent of the U. An explosion and fire in the No. The New York Times reported on the accident in its April 29 edition. The Chernobyl accident happened during a test to see how the plant would operate if it lost power. Plant operators made several mistakes, creating a poisonous and unstable environment in the reactor core.
Nevertheless, they proceeded with the experiment, shutting down safety systems that would be lost during a power outage, including the turbine system that provided cooling water. With the flow reduced, the cooling water in the reactor began to boil and turn to steam. Operators tried to reinsert rods to slow and control the nuclear reaction, but a design flaw in the control rods caused them to jam. The steam likely caused an explosion in the reactor, which, in turn, caused a second explosion seconds later.
Debris from the explosion set out a number of fires around the Chernobyl plant. It released radioactive smoke into the atmosphere that spread over the western Soviet Union and Europe.