A drive 30 minutes north of Omaha, Neb., leads to the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant. It’s full of new equipment. There’s a white concrete box building that’s still under construction. It’s licensed until 2033. But the plant is closing Monday.
Nuclear power is expensive, especially when compared to some of the alternatives, so the U.S. nuclear power industry is shrinking. As more plants go offline, industry leaders are forced to reckon with what critics call a “broken system” for taking plants out of service and storing radioactive waste.
If the Lindaus are perplexed it’s understandable. The Fort Calhoun plant cranked out electricity for 43 years, and it was licensed for another 17. Decommissioning will cost up to $1.5 billion, and take up to 60 years to complete. Still, Tim Burke figures eating all of that is cheaper than keeping the plant in production.
Burke runs the Omaha Public Power District, which owns Fort Calhoun. He says operating a small plant like this one, especially in a region with abundant wind power and natural gas, just doesn’t make sense.
Nuclear waste is a big part of nuclear energy and when these plants go offline, something has to be done with it, but what?
“So, what is happening is plants across the country are having to store waste on site. Every nuclear plant in the country is storing this high level radioactive waste, on site,” she says.
Simeone says that setup creates a few problems. First, it’s dangerous. Nuclear power plants, and de facto waste dumps, sited near water, can spread nuclear waste, and secondly, it’s expensive. Waste has to be stored in heavy concrete casks, and guarded. The government’s already paid more than $5 billion for that, and Simeone says that figure is likely to mushroom to about $30 billion, minimum, a decade from now.
And finally, she says, it’s not fair to the communities — like the one around the Fort Calhoun plant in Nebraska — that get stuck with the dangers and financial burdens of nuclear waste, without the high-paying jobs, reliable electric power, and tax benefits of a working nuclear plant.