As a former nuclear submarine reactor operator and inspector with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency, I suggest that the problems behind the demise of the U.S. nuclear power industry go beyond the risks of operating aging nuclear plants [“The first in decades may be one of the last,” front page, June 18].
First, all U.S. nuclear power plants are based on antiquated “thermal neutron” technology. Spent fuel rods from these reactors generate heat and high-level, long-lived (thousands of years) radioactive waste. Today, there are millions of spent fuel rods submerged in temporary fuel pools with no long-term disposal solution in the United States .
Second, in 1985, the United States began to fall behind Russia, South Korea, China and Japan in nuclear power technology. The “new” Watts Bar 2 cited in the article is a 1,000-megawatt museum piece that nobody would buy today. In the meantime, Russia, China and South Korea are building and exporting large, standardized 1,400-megawatt power plants.
Third, Russia has taken the lead in “fast neutron” reactors, which can reduce the total radiotoxicity of nuclear waste and dramatically reduce the waste’s radioactive lifetime. Russia also uses all or almost all of the fuel in the waste thanks to highly advanced automation. China has already bought two of these designs from Russia.
This vital industry is a mess and may be a good candidate for nationalization. I wonder what the presidential hopefuls’ positions are on this.
Joseph DeBor, Arlington