LIVING LAB
11:30 am
Wed September 11, 2013

The Future Of Nuclear Power In New England

Last month Entergy announced its decision to shut down the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, leaving just three remaining power plants in New England. The closure of nuclear power plants in New England seems to be indicative of what's going on across the nation, WGBH science editor Heather Goldstone told WGBH's Morning Edition on Wednesday.

New England relies heavily on nuclear power in comparison to the rest of the country. Across the nation nuclear power provides about 20 percent of electricity, but here in New England we get about 31 percent of our electricity from nuclear power, according to Goldstone.

The Pilgrim Nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass. has a design similar to the Fukushima power plant in Japan.
The Pilgrim Nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass. has a design similar to the Fukushima power plant in Japan.
Credit Wikipedia

Nuclear power was originally seen as a clean energy option that would fix the problem of carbon emissions, but since a tsunami hit Japan in 2011 causing a nuclear disaster at Fukushima (a plant that has a similar design to the Pilgrim Nuclear plant in Plymouth, Mass. ), there's been backlash against nuclear power. Some countries, such as Germany, have begun to abandon nuclear power completely.  

The entire fleet of nuclear power plants in the U.S. is aging. Most of the plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Though there are two nuclear power plants currently under construction, a new power plant hasn't opened in the U.S. since 1996. Vermont Yankee is the fourth power plant to close in the country this year.

The Entergy-operated Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass. has been shrouded in controversy this year.  There has been a series of unplanned closures at the 40-year-old plant, and it is currently offline due to a recent power failure which caused a cooling pump to fail. .

When a nuclear power plant closes, that's not the end of the story. The plant still must pay for the maintenance and security of spent fuel. All of the spent fuel must immediately go into cooling ponds for five years- which is what we heard about during Fukushima. In this area of the country after five years the spent fuel must go into dry cask storage.

The Maine Yankee power plant, which closed a decade ago, still spends $8 million for maintenance and security of 60 dry casks of spent fuel. The original thinking was that the spent fuel would be eventually transferred to an underground permanent storage site, but that project has essentially been de-funded and abandoned. This means that there is essentially nowhere for the spent fuel from Vermont Yankee to be stored except on site.