There are currently five nuclear power plants operating in New England: two in Connecticut, one in Massachusetts, one in Vermont and one in New Hampshire. Second only to natural gas, nuclear power is a major supplier of electricity to New England -- so much that a 2006 report found that nuclear plants could supply all residential households in the region excluding Massachusetts. . .
But Ed Lyman of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists says a doubling or tripling of nuclear plants would have to occur before nuclear power could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, and Lyman says government subsidies should not be used to get them off the ground.
"The expansion plans in the 1970s fell of their own weight because of massive cost overruns, and taxpayers and ratepayers ended up having to bail out many projects," Lyman says. "And the economics of nuclear power is no different today than it was then. The fact is that without the loan guarantees and other subsidies, there would not be a single new nuclear plant built in this country."
And then there's the thorny issue of disposing and safeguarding nuclear waste. For more than two decades the federal government has been trying to find a suitable place for a central repository for highly radioactive spent fuel that is a byproduct of nuclear power. Nevada's Yucca Mountain had been investigated and debated and rejected and finally recommended for licensing as an underground storage site.
But this week the Department of Energy moved to withdraw the application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the Obama Administration eliminated funding for the site. Anti-nuclear activists cheered the move.
Patrick Dostie takes a dimmer view. "Well, what it means is that Maine Yankee down in Wiscasset now becomes sort of a defacto storage site for high level waste."
Dostie is the state's nuclear safety inspector who has seen the Maine Yankee Nuclear Power plant through its operating, decommissioning and storage phases. Before the plant shut down in 1997 because it was no longer economically viable, it was Maine's largest source of electricity. Today, Dostie says it has 60 casks of high-level spent nuclear fuel on the site as well as several that contain the cut-up guts of the internal reactor that were too radioactive to send to a low-level waste site.
Maine had hoped to safely dispose of some of this waste at Yucca beginning in the next ten years. Dostie says the delay is a reflection of the nation's political will. "It certainly puts a wrinkle in the so-called Renaissance. Obviously, you kind of always have to ask questions: Is it appropriate to build nuclear power plants when who knows how long it's going to be before we resolve the issue?"