After Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the industry's failure to deliver on promises of providing energy "too cheap to meter" (even with over $115 billion in federal subsidies since 1947), the future of nuclear energy had looked grim. A new reactor hasn't come on line in over 10 years.
But Alabama and the Tennessee Valley Authority are about to change all that, as The Birmingham News reports:
One day next month, workers at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant near Athens will start a chain reaction in the Unit 1 reactor and begin making enough electricity to power 650,000 homes.
It will be the first reactor to come online in America in more than a decade.
The Tennessee Valley Authority's decision to restart the reactor it shut down 22 years ago puts Alabama at the forefront of a nuclear-power resurgence in the United States.
"I'll regard this as another milestone in a journey of nuclear power toward securing its place as an energy source for the future of America," Dale E. Klein, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said.
The Browns Ferris plant puts Alabama and the South at the forefront of a hoped-for national nuclear revival, the News notes:
Utilities have announced plans to seek federal licenses in the next two years to build up to 30 reactors. They are lining up to take advantage of federal incentives for the first few projects completed.
One interesting point: Alabama doesn't need the extra power. The new facility is for export of energy to rapidly-growing nearby Southern states like Georgia -- a demand that critics believe could be headed off by greater efforts at conservation:
Alabama already produces more electricity than it uses, with the excess going to power other areas in the fast-growing South.
Net electricity generation in Alabama in 2005 was 137.9 million megawatts, according to a report released in March by the federal Energy Information Administration. The same year, 89.2 million megawatts were sold in the state, meaning state power companies produced 55 percent more electricity than their customers needed.
Sara Barczak, safe energy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said Alabama and the rest of the Southeast could delay the need for new power plants for years by conserving power.
"If you're in a different state that's in a major supply crunch, that's one thing," she said. "But I don't see that Alabama is there and, secondly, they've got a long way to go in terms of energy efficiency."