In Saturday's editions, The Washington Post reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had denied a petition by Jeannine Honicker that the nuclear power industry be shut down. The NRC staff has recommended that the petition be denied, but the full commission has not yet acted.
If the United States were to abandon nuclear power, it would cost the nation $60 billion to replace atomic plants now in place and an estimated $9.8 billion a year in higher electric costs.
That's the conclusion of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in an unusual response to a petition by a Nashville, Tenn., woman who asked that the NRC close down America's nuclear power industry because it produces "radiation and radioactivity that results eventually in an unacceptable number of deaths and injuries to present and succeeding generations."
In denying the petition of Jeannine Honicker, the NRC said that "it has not been scientifically established or proven that there are any health effects from the very low levels of human population radiation exposure that result from normal operation of the nuclear fuel cycle." The NRC then went into exhaustive detail on the adverse economic impact closing the nuclear power industry would have on the nation.
The NRC estimated that it would cost at least $60 billion to build coaland oil-fired plants to replace the 71 nuclear power plants now in operation. These nuclear plants produce 13 per cent of the electricity used in the United States.
The NRC made no estimate of how much it would take to replace 107 nuclear electric plants now on order or being built. Those plants make up half of the new generating capacity being built in this country to meet anticipated demand for power over the next nine years.
"By the end of 1987," the NRC said, "nuclear will be providing 27 per cent of the electrical output of the U.S."
The agency then estimated that the cost of the additional coal and oil that would be required to replace uranium in generators would add $820 million a month to electric costs by 1987, meaning an additional cost to consumers of electricity of $9.8 billion a year.
The NRC assumed that coal would provide 20 percent and oil 80 percent of the replacement fuel if the nation were to give up on atomic power. The NRC called that mix "realistic" because there would not be enough miners to produce any more coal or enough railroad cars to carry it to where it could be burned.
The NRC said it was by no means certain that the nation could even provide coal and oil power to replace the nuclear energy now produced and planned for 1987. The NRC said it was far more likely that the United States would suffer severe electrical shortages if it decided to abandon nuclear power.
"The reduced output could force the shutdown of 20 per cent of the commercial and industrial sectors of the economy," the NRC said. "On the other hand, the closing of the metals and chemical industries would accommodate the entire shortfall, but that would mean the loss of $17 billion a month in wages."
Finally, the NRC estimated that a shutdown of the nuclear power industry would cost the jobs of 130,000 workers in the nuclear field, at a loss of $9 billion a year in wages.