America’s First Nuke in 19 Years

Dear Reviewer,

One might have thought that the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan a mere four years ago would have been enough to quash any thoughts of new nukes starting up in the United States. But no, a nuclear power plant has begun starting up in Tennessee after approval last month by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Fukushima caused many European countries to abandon nuclear power altogether, including Germany, which decided immediately after the 2011 meltdown in Japan to shut down all of its 22 nuclear reactors by 2022. It has also declared its intention to stop using fossil fuels by 2050. And Germany was by no means the first country to react to a nuclear power plant accident.

Sweden began shutting down its plants after the Three Mile Island debacle in 1979. Italy joined that parade in 1987, a year after Chernobyl, and Belgium shut them down in 1999. Spain and Austria have passed legislation to block the construction of any new nuclear plants. Switzerland is phasing out its plants.

The new unit in Tennessee is called Watts Bar 2. Construction on the plant began 43 years ago, then was halted for about 20 years beginning in the 1980s and as it starts up we can total the cost of building it — $6 billion. Obviously, power bills for customers in the TVA region are going up. Bar 2 will be the seventh nuclear generator the Tennessee Valley Authority owns. The new plant will bring the share of nuclear power in the TVA system to 35% of all electricity generated.

The Cattenom Nuclear power plant in France is on the Moselle river near Luxembourg. The four pressure water system plants were built between 1979 and 1991 and produce a total of 5,200 megawatts. Nine workers at the plants have been exposed to serious levels of radiation and two died during maintenance procedures in 2013.

Although critics believe an earthquake could be disastrous for the plant, the NRC has instituted new containment and flooding requirements since Fukushima and has declared that Watts Bar 2 meets those requirements. Watts Bar 1 was the last nuclear power plant approved in the United States. It went into operation in 1996.

Meanwhile, the TVA is shutting down dirty coal-fired plants as quickly as possible. At least 26 of 59 coal-fired plants in the TVA’s distribution area — mostly Appalachian areas of Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee — will be closed by 2018. In 2011, the TVA and the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement to begin shutting down the plants for human health reasons. At the moment, there are 40 units operating at 10 locations.

There is a lot of data manipulation about the effects of burning coal on human health, but there is no question whatsoever that living near a coal-fired power plant will shorten your life. Some responsible estimates are that 13,000 Americans die every year from coal-fired power plant emissions. The behemoths spew lots of terrible toxins, including sulfur dioxide, ozone, heavy metals, benzene (a serious carcinogen), radioactive particles that enter the lungs and cause cancers, carbon monoxide, mercury (which causes loss of IQ in children) and arsenic.

If a foreign power were trying to poison the most possible Americans a year while stirring up the least suspicion, they might not think up a better scheme than funding coal-fired power plants. That said, nuclear power plants create superfund sites that will be dangerous for half a million years and living near such a plant can be dangerous too. Nonetheless, there are more coming. The NRC is reviewing applications for 20 nuclear generators in states ranging from Texas to New Jersey. No western states other than Texas and no New England states have applied to build a nuke.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek

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Stephen Petranek

Stephen Petranek’s career of over 40 years in the publishing world is marked by numerous prizes and awards for excellent writing on science, nature, technology, politics, economics and more. He has been editor-in-chief of the Miami Herald’s prestigious Sunday magazine, Tropic, and has covered a wide range of topics for Time Inc.’s Life magazine. His...

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