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Image of nuclear power stations.

Image by Lukáš Lehotský.

No new U.S. reactors, big or small, fission or fusion will be built here within at least the next five years…more like ten. Those that try will do nothing but divert resources away from the Solartopian technologies needed to save the Earth.

They’ll also lose big money for their billionaire backers and the taxpayers who’ll be forced to bail them out.

There are now 93 large uninsured light-water reactors licensed for operation in the US. One more– Georgia’s Vogtle #4– may open within the next year or so.

All of them emit radioactive Carbon-14. They release additional greenhouse gasses through the process of mining, milling and enriching uranium-based fuel, as well as attempting to store it once it’s become radioactive waste.

All commercial reactors burn at ~570 degrees Fahrenheit, warming the planet on their own.

Meanwhile, there are zero such commercial nukes in the pipeline. None are under construction.

No credible observer– pro-nuke or no nuke– contends that any large new reactor could be ordered, built, licensed, insured and brought on line in the United States within the next decade or two… well beyond whatever window we might have to solve our worsening climate crisis.

The whole industry, which is inseparable from the nuclear weapons complex, was sold to the public on the premise that its electricity would come “too cheap to meter.”

But consider the last eight major reactor projects in the US and Europe:

Finland’s Olkiluoto3 opened last year, billions of Euros over budget and more than a decade behind its original 2009 promise date. Though brand new, it’s already been forced to scale back operations at least once due to a massive influx of far cheaper solar/wind/hydro-generated electricity.

France’s Flamanville remains under construction, also years late and billions over budget.

Two reactors at England’s Hinckley, again years late, have soared beyond E35 billion. Odds on them ever opening are up for grabs. Odds on them ever cost competing with wind or solar are less than zero.

Two huge reactors at VC Summer are stillborn. Their $9 billion in construction costs have stuck South Carolina with a dusty mausoleum that will never generate power.

After fifteen years, Georgia’s Vogtle #3 has finally gone critical. Unit #4 may open next year. Projected in 2008 at $14 billion, the pair together may yet exceed $40 billion. They’ll certainly be the last big light water reactors built in the U.S.

Together Summer and Vogtle bankrupted Westinghouse. The European projects have bankrupted Electricite de France.

Thus Wall Street’s unwillingness to fund big new nukes is likely to deepen.

So now we hear instead about “Small Modular Reactors.” With backing from the likes of Bill Gates and Oliver Stone, the idea of mass producing small, simple nukes claims major media fandom. The critiques of SMRs are widespread and varied.

But there’s no more hilarious proviso than one coming from the industry itself, in the form of a sort of disclaimer from NuScale in a recent announcement. The list of “warnings” resembles one we hear on the air for various prescription drugs, but stretches in length to resemble a documentary film, practically matching this article in length. Take a look by scrolling down to the section that begins “Forward Looking Statements.” You may want to settle in with a cup of coffee.

At this point, there are currently no proven SMR prototypes. Cost projections again recall that 1950s “too cheap to meter” lie told by Atomic Energy Commission Chair Lewis Strauss (the villain in the film Oppenheimer).

NuScale’s promised delivery date has already slipped from 2026 to 2029. Independent assessments put that well into the 2030s. The billions squandered on such projects divert capital that should otherwise fund renewables.

Likewise much-hyped thorium reactors, which remain untested, unproven, and of uncertain costs.

As for fusion, its operations would concentrate temperatures of 100 million degrees Fahrenheit on an increasingly fragile planet. And that despite decades of intense research, and gargantuan expenditures, its future availability, ecological impacts and financial costs remain naggingly uncertain.

Thus, in the vital window from now until decade’s end, no new nukes, large or small, fission or fusion, will be ready to tangibly replace the burning of fossil fuels. The once-beloved nuclear genie can’t cure global boiling. There’s simply no there there.

Which makes our current fleet of atomic elders even more dangerous. Thoroughly decayed reactors like California’s Diablo Canyon and Michigan’s Palisades soak up billions in public funds to keep operating. But they’ve yet to secure comprehensive liability insurance. At a current average age of more than forty (Diablo opened in 1985) they cost far more to operate than proven, readily available wind, solar, battery and efficiency technologies.

Diablo in particular is plagued by deadly flaws such as embrittlement, cracked pipes, seismic vulnerability, an aging workforce and much more.

So today’s real reactor battle is not over new ones, which essentially don’t exist.

It’s about the risks posed by the old ones, all of which lack comprehensive liability insurance.

And about how quickly we can bury at last the immensely powerful fossil fuel industry that threatens us all.

For that, the only clear solution comes with a fast-as-possible shift to safer, cleaner, cheaper truly green Solartopian renewables that actually do exist. That are constantly evolving.

They may not be too cheap to meter (except in rare cases, like nighttime wind power in west Texas).

But they comprise today’s last, best hope to cool our boiling Earth…while creating jobs and profit for those wise enough to see it now.


This content originally appeared on CounterPunch.org and was authored by Harvey Wasserman.