The failing nuclear power station in Japan could be triggering a new era of nuclear paranoia. Incidents involving nuclear power plants and Congressional budget cuts make any new growth of the nuclear power industry unlikely. Nuclear energy can deliver a lot of electricity for less than other methods of power generation.
Japan nuclear reactor crisis likely to extend nuclear moratorium
The world has been watching in horror as three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power complex Japan are vicariously close to a total meltdown. Japan experienced an earthquake that reached 8.9 on the Richter scale, and the quake combined with the resulting tsunami has devastated the country. Four nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi, or Fukushima One, have had a fire or explosion and are said to be leaking radioactive steam into the air, according to the Christian Science Monitor. The danger is not nearly the threat level of the Chernobyl incident in 1986, according to Bloomberg. Nuclear energy use has been waning in the United States for decades, and the incident is likely to hinder the nuclear industry from further growth.
Congress unlikely to back nuclear expansion
Besides public fears about the nuclear industry, one of the biggest hurdles to expanding the nuclear power industry is high startup costs. Nuclear reactors require an enormous amount of capital and time to build, and the 2011 Federal Budget from the Obama administration included $36 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction, according to CNN. Those guarantees would not actually spend any money, but would pay the creditors of any company that started to build a power plant and defaulted on its loans. However, given that Congress is trying to cut spending levels, it is unlikely that many federal funds are going to be devoted to the construction of any new nuclear plants.
Cheaper source of power
Nuclear power currently generates 20 percent of U.S. power, which has been a constant since 1988, according to the Energy Information Administration. Electricity from a nuclear power plant costs about 2.17 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to 4.05 cents per hour for fossil steam (coal), and 5.75 cents per kilowatt hour for natural gas, wind power and solar energy. The average American household uses about 11,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, or kWe, per year. One kWe powers a 60-watt lightbulb for about 90 minutes. Currently, 60 percent of electricity in the U.S. is generated from coal, which EIA says is twice as expensive as nuclear power.