As nuclear power flails in the U.S., White House bets big on a revival

As nuclear power flails in the U.S., White House bets big on a revival

As the Biden administration seeks to promote cleaner energy to meet its goals for fighting climate change, it is eager to turn around a nuclear power industry hampered by cost overruns, engineering setbacks and major doubts about viability. In her remarks, Granholm said the country must triple its output of nuclear energy by 2050 to meet climate goals, which means adding the equivalent of nearly 100 more Vogtle-size projects.

When the final reactor of the Vogtle plant went online at the end of April, the expansion was seven years behind schedule and nearly $20 billion over budget. It ultimately cost more than twice as much as promised.

The misfortune at Vogtle was overshadowed only by the calamity that befell another power company across the state line in South Carolina that was building its own Westinghouse AP1000 reactor, the same design used at Vogtle. South Carolina utility SCANA burned through $9 billion before scrapping the project altogether. Federal prosecutors in 2020 would declare that project a cauldron of fraud, securing prison sentences for company officials charged with lying to investors and ratepayers about the viability of completing it on time and on budget.

The Biden administration is undeterred. It is championing more Vogtle-size projects, as well as trying to step up development of small modular reactors, a new nuclear technology the federal government has been struggling to help move to market for years. The modular reactors aim for nimble designs that would ostensibly be easier to permit and mass produce, while creating less radioactive waste than traditional plants.

But the United States, the birthplace of the nuclear energy industry, is fast losing its dominance over it. China currently has 21 reactors under construction. India has eight large reactors under construction. South Korea has been steadily building new nuclear plants and is on a path to generate nearly a third of its energy from nuclear power by the end of the decade. (Nuclear currently accounts for 19 percent of the U.S. power supply.)