academic environmental studies   macalester college
Environmental Studies

Nuclear Power

Why Nuclear Power Now?

Plant Siting

Environmental and Safety Concerns

Nuclear Waste

What Can You Do?

References & Links

Comments & questions to:

Plant Siting

We are in the middle of a push for the expansion and support of nuclear power that has been given renewed energy from the massive amount of public funds made available to the industry but the citizen input in regards to the future of this technology has been all but nonexistent.  Regulation procedures have been streamlined to allow for more assured license approval; already existing operating licenses are granted decades long extensions with only a cursory examination of the applications to enable the nuclear power industry to continue making profits while needlessly endangering citizens and the environment.

One hundred and three nuclear power plants are currently operating in 31 states across the contiguous United States.  Of the One hundred and three active nuclear power plants, 39 have already been granted their 20 year extension and another 12 are currently awaiting review of their license renewal and beyond that 27 more reactor sites are expected to file for renewal of their operating contracts within the next six years.[1]    Some are placed in rural and less populated regions while others, such as the Indian Point reactors twenty-four miles from New York City, operate much closer to dense, highly populated areas.  During the first boom of nuclear energy, when the dangers and potential hazards of nuclear plants were not widely known, plants were placed where private corporations believed they could serve the largest amount of consumers.  There were no public hearings held, no open forums to allow citizens to express their concern, indeed the nuclear power industry did its best to hide any potential hazards that the plants might create.  Instead nuclear power plants were placed across the country, potentially affecting millions of citizens and given operating licenses for forty years with the expectation that each facility would apply for and receive a twenty year extension.

After the initial nuclear power boom many people began to realize the dangers posed by nuclear power plants and because of this and several other factors no nuclear power plants have been built for three decades and only five nuclear reactors have been built in the United States since 1990.[2]  Recent governmental and industrial actions have sought to change this with the potential opening of at least two new plants by 2010.  In February 2002 the United States Department of Energy unveiled a new initiative titled the Nuclear Power 2010 Program.  This program is a joint venture by both the government and nuclear power industry aimed at the identification of sites for new nuclear power plants, the development and marketing of standardized nuclear power plant designs, and to demonstrate a streamlined regulatory process.  This program is significant for many reasons but primarily for its cost-sharing component and changes to the regulatory system.  The Department of Energy’s policy now allows energy corporations to apply for early site permits which would pre-qualify the sites for a nuclear power plant and then the companies could apply for combined Construction and Operation Licenses allowing for the construction of new plants with less regulatory risk. 

The main reason that there have not been any new nuclear plants constructed in the last two decades is because of the enormous cost associated with the construction and licensing of a nuclear power plant.  The Nuclear Power 2010 program is expected to provide some $556 million dollars in subsidies to the nuclear industry from fiscal year 2002 through the 2011 fiscal year.  To encourage development of nuclear power, under the Nuclear Power 2010 Program the U.S. Department of Energy has offered to subsidize 25% to 50% of the construction cost overruns due to delays for the first six new plants.  The Nuclear Power 2010 program includes two phases during which the money provided through subsidies will be spent.  In the first phase, three of the country’s largest and most profitable energy companies took advantage of the new regulatory process allowing the attainment of early site permits for three new nuclear plants.  The Department of Energy split the cost of these licenses but none of the companies are under any obligation to construct a plant if they happen to change their minds.  If that was not enough the permits are good for twenty years with the option of a twenty year extension and they can be sold at the discretion of the energy company.  In the second phase of the Nuclear 2010 program, the Department of Energy has committed an estimated $512 million from 2005 through 2011 to allow two nuclear industry consortiums to research and develop new reactors with no obligation to construct one at any time.[3]

The practice of the Federal government granting the nuclear power industry massive subsidies to encourage an unneeded technology is not a new one, from the beginning of the nuclear power industry in 1948 through to 1998 the United States has granted over $77 billion in federal subsidies.  That is over 60% of the total federal energy research budget over that half century.  In that same time span $26 billion of the research and development budget went to fossil fuels, $12 billion went to renewable energy and only $8 billion went to energy efficient technologies.[4]  In addition to this great disparity of funding distribution, the Federal government has made a practice of underwriting the potential risks of liability claims brought against nuclear power companies.  In 1978 Congress passed the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act which was meant to cover all non-military nuclear power plants constructed in the United States before 2026.  The main purpose of the act was to protect the nuclear power industry from having to pay out large sums of reparations in the event of a nuclear accident.  Instead the United States government would cover a proportion of the costs.  This act was originally viewed as a necessary incentive to convince energy corporations to undertake the risky business of operating a nuclear power plant.  The Act was renewed in 2005 for a twenty year period and expanded to cover Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste transportation.

            The nuclear power industry is granted incentive after incentive to encourage the construction of nuclear power plants but despite the massive amounts of public funding being utilized, public say in the process continues to be extremely limited.  In the search for sites for new nuclear power plants to fulfill the objective of the Nuclear Power 2010 program, a consortium of nuclear industry companies chose their preferred sites and merely announced which areas they were considering.[5]  On May 20, 2005 the nuclear power consortium, NuStart Energy, identified six potential sites for the two new reactors that they are planning on constructing.  Four of the six sites already house operating nuclear power plants while the other two do not.  The six potential sites included: 

  • Scottsboro, Alabama. The Bellefonte Nuclear Plant, an unfinished site owned by the U.S. government's Tennessee Valley Authority.
  • Port Gibson, Mississippi. The Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, owned by Entergy.
  • St. Francisville, Louisiana. The River Bend Station, owned by Entergy.
  • Aiken, South Carolina. The Savannah River Site, a U.S. Department of Energy nuclear weapons lab.
  • Lusby, Maryland. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Plant, owned by Constellation Energy.
  • Oswego, New York The Nine Mile Point plant, owned by Constellation Energy.[6]

Since the publishing of the list of potential sites, the consortium identified the Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Scottsboro, Alabama and the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Port Gibson, Mississippi as the two sites to apply for early site permits.  The Nuclear Regulatory commission is expected to rule on the applications later this year.  Once the choice of sites was made clear environmentalist groups in both Alabama and Mississippi protested the construction of the new nuclear power reactors but because the preliminary applications are yet to be approved and no commitment to actual build the plants has been issued no strong opposition has coalesced.  The mayor and aldermen of Port Gibson, Mississippi have adopted a resolution stating that they support the construction of a second nuclear reactor at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station but this was issued well after the consortium had already decided to apply for one in that location.

External Links
Nuclear Power Plant Locations
NIRS: Nuclear Subsidies
NRDC: Nuclear Subsidies

Return to top

[1] “Nuclear Statistics.” Accessed on April 2, 2006 at

[2] Ibid

[3] Cochran, Thomas, Christopher Paine, Geoffrey Fettus, Robert Norris, Matthew McKinzie.  “Commercial Nuclear Power.”  Natural Resources Defense Council.  Issue Paper October 2005.

[4] Ibid

[5] “Six Finalists for Nuclear Power Plants.”  Accessed April 2, 2006 at

[6] Ibid

[7] Image borrowed from

[8] Image borrowed from


Location of Nuclear Reactors

Locations of U.S. Reactors [7]

The Scottsboro nuclear plant

The Bellefonte Nuclear Plant in Scottsboro, Alabama [8]

Last updated:  5/2/2006


Macalester College · 1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105  USA · 651-696-6000
Comments and questions to