It’s been 25 years since the world’s worst nuclear disaster unfolded at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and today, the area surrounding the plant is still uninhabitable. While the catastrophe, which spread radioactive fallout over tens of thousands of square miles, serves as an eerie reminder of the tremendous risk associated with nuclear power, the accident contributed little to the decline of nuclear power in the United States – which had already hit a financial brick wall.
By 1986, the U.S. nuclear power industry – plagued by construction delays and cost overruns – already had faltered. Commissioning of new reactors in the United States had ceased even before the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. In fact, a year before the Chernobyl accident, Forbes magazine had declared the U.S. nuclear power program the largest managerial disaster in business history.
Twenty-five years later, the world again watches in horror as one of the most technologically advanced countries struggles to gain control of several crippled nuclear reactors. Like Chernobyl, the incident in Japan will have long-term implications and could sour the public on the development of new nuclear reactors. But as was the case 25 years ago, the economics of nuclear power already may have sealed the fate of the role nuclear power will play in the U.S. energy sector.
Since the Japanese nuclear tragedy began, nuclear development plans have been dropped in both Maryland and Texas. While the renewed awareness of the inherent dangers of nuclear power may have contributed to scrapping new reactors at Calvert Cliffs and South Texas, the financial uncertainty of these new projects has beleaguered them since day one.
When will decision-makers learn? We must stop investing valuable taxpayer money into this dangerous, costly energy source. Instead, we should invest in an energy-efficient future. That way, 25 years from now, the next generation of energy consumers won’t be able to say “I told you so.”
The Obama administration and Congress must recognize the folly of nuclear energy and stop providing subsidies to an industry that cannot stay afloat without massive infusions of taxpayer money. That money can, and should, be reinvested in our future.
Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Energy Program