MIT Says US Nuclear Reactors Are Old, Obsolete, And Costly

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

Despite a global shift towards nuclear energy by other countries, regulations have made American nuclear reactors old, obsolete, and costly according to a Tuesday article in MIT Technology Review.

The average American nuclear reactor is 35 years old, nearly obsolete by modern design standards, and near the end of its operating license. Instead of building new more modern reactors, the government is planning to simply extend the operating licenses against the advice of its own technical staff. These obsolete and aging nuclear plants are being pushed far beyond their original design lifetimes, which increases the risk of system failures, leaks, and accidents.

Even with license extensions, a dozen plants, with a combined capacity of 12,189 megawatts, are scheduled for shutdown by 2025, but relatively few new reactors will come online to offset this decline. Worldwide nuclear capacity is expected to grow 60 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), while American capacity will likely only grow by 16 percent over the same time period.

Building new nuclear reactors and operating existing ones is very expensive relative to conventional energy sources.

Worldwide nuclear capacity must more than double by 2050 in order to meet targets to limit global warming according to the IEA. As of December 2015 there are a total of 66 new reactors under construction worldwide, the highest number in 25 years. They will support the 437 existing civilian reactors. There are currently 100 nuclear reactors in the United States which accounted for 19 percent of all electricity generated in the United States in 2014.

U.S. regulators recently gave the go-ahead for the country’s first new nuclear reactor in 20 years to begin commercial operations, producing nearly 2,300 megawatts of electricity–enough to power 1.3 million homes. However, approval for the construction of this reactor took an incredible 43 years due to scandals, red-tape, and environmental concerns.

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Tags : energy institute for energy research international energy agency massachusetts institute of technology
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