Stymied by concerns about safety and cost, the US nuclear power industry has struggled to make a comeback for decades. Now the revival may have to wait even longer, as earthquake damage to a reactor in northern Japan has again highlighted the potential hazards of going nuclear.
The timing is tough for the industry, which recently has been enjoying more support in Washington than on Wall Street. President Obama as well as Republican leaders on Capitol Hill want to lend the industry billions of dollars in additional taxpayer funds to help pay for building new nuclear plants. Even some environmentalists had begun to embrace nuclear energy in the wake of last summer's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and amid concerns about global warming.
But banks and investors worry that the plants are too expensive and risky to finance. The crisis in Japan could jeopardize or at least tone down political support for nuclear energy just as the industry needs all the financial backing it can get from the government. "The nuclear renaissance in the US was on the rocks in any case," said Peter Bradford, former commissioner of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "There's no way this is a positive for a technology that's dependent entirely on political support."
Cost remains the biggest obstacle for any revival of nuclear energy. Billions of dollars are required to build a single plant. And lenders have been leery of financing projects because of a history of incomplete projects, blown budgets and bankrupted companies.
(In association with The Washington post. For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com )