Japan Disaster Leaves US Nuclear Plants in Limbo

Wednesday, 07 Mar 2012 01:51 PM

By Greg McDonald

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The disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant a year ago has drastically set back plans across the United States to expand the nuclear power industry, according to a report Wednesday at Stateline.org.

Before Fukushima, several state legislatures were beginning to debate bills aimed at lifting moratoriums on nuclear plant construction that were put in place after the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. In early 2011, at least five states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — appeared to be on the verge of paving the way for new plants.

But the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan changed all that.

“When Fukushima happened, everything went into a holding pattern,” says Marshall Cohen, senior director of state and local government affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Lawmakers seem to be more concerned now than ever about safety. But when those safety fears are coupled with old worries over nuclear waste storage and the shifting economics of the energy industry, the outlook for change is not particularly hopeful.

“The industry is in fairly great trouble,” Charles Ebinger, director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, told Stateline. “I don’t see a lot of activity as we look out 10 to 15 years.”

There has been some movement, however. Just last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission signed off on two new reactors, both in Georgia. But construction of the plants, expected to cost billions, could take years to complete.

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