Nuclear Power’s Renaissance in Reverse

PARIS – Last June, Yukiya Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), declared that “nuclear power will make a significant and growing contribution to sustainable development in the coming decades.” But, as this year’s World Nuclear Industry Status Report highlights, recent trends paint a very different picture.

Duke Energy, America’s largest utility, has shelved plans to build two reactors in Florida, after having spent $1 billion on the project. The decision came only three months after the company abandoned investment in two new units in North Carolina.

In fact, this year, four American utilities have decided to shut down a total of five reactors permanently – the first closures in the United States in 15 years. One of the units – Kewaunee Power Station in Wisconsin – was abandoned after massive investment in upgrades and a 60-year license renewal; it simply could not generate power at competitive prices. For the same reasons, Vermont Yankee, another plant with a license to operate through 2032, is now scheduled to close in 2014.

Similarly, the world’s largest nuclear operator – the French state-controlled utility Électricité de France – announced its impending withdrawal from nuclear power in the US, after having sunk roughly $2 billion into aborted projects. And, in order to help offset soaring operating costs, which resulted in losses of €1.5 billion ($2 billion) last year, EDF will raise electricity prices this year for its French customers by 5%, on average, and by another 5% next year.