TVA Will Halt Work on Nuclear Plants Decision Marks the End of Postwar Era

Article excerpt

The Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation's largest power producers, will halt work on the last three nuclear power plants under construction in the United States.

The decision marks the end of an era for the nation's once-mighty nuclear-power industry, which had held the promise of a virtually inexhaustible supply of clean, low-cost energy. At its optimistic beginnings shortly after the birth of the atomic age in World War II, promoters predicted that consumers would soon be allowed unlimited amounts nuclear-generated electric power for a flat monthly fee because it would be "too cheap to meter."

But because of ever-rising costs of construction, of radiation safeguards, of the still unsolved problem of disposing of nuclear waste, the dream never came close to realization. The slogan became an embarrassment to the nuclear-power industry.

Across the nation, 109 nuclear units produce about 20 percent of the nation's electricity, second only to the output of coal-fired power plants. But most utilities long ago dropped plans to build new nuclear plants. No new plants have been ordered since 1978.

The TVA's decision supports the widespread view among people in the power industry that the costs and regulatory hurdles involved in building nuclear plants make it increasingly unlikely that new plants will be built in the United States.

"I think this is bringing to a close the present generation of nuclear plants," TVA Chairman Craven Crowell said.

Crowell, 50, an appointee of President Bill Clinton's administration, said the TVA would consider completing the three plants if it could find partners to help with the financing. "But to be honest," he said, "there's a very slim possibility of finding partners."

The Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade association, has insisted that it has a plan for building new nuclear plants that ensures that nuclear power remains a viable option for generating electricity into the 21st century. …